Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Could Copenhagen be a needed break from health care reform trash talk?

When President Barack Obama insisted he could not be present in Copenhagen on Friday to learn whether his adopted hometown gets the 2016 Summer Olympic games, the claim was always that he was so busy trying to reform the way health care is paid for that he couldn’t spare the time.

But with the absurdities to which the health care debate has sunk these days, could it be that the real reason Obama decided that he could fit a few days in Denmark into his schedule was that he needed a break from health care?

I’M SURE THE Obama loyalists will contend that he’s merely standing up for his country by going to Copenhagen to try to awe the International Olympic Committee with his presence.

But I wouldn’t blame him for a bit if he figured that being away from Washington was good for his sanity. Going to a place for a couple of days where he can focus on the idea of being able to walk from his home to the Olympic Stadium in Washington Park could offer a breather.

How ridiculous has the health care debate become?

The real scarlet “A” (for abortion, not amnesty) has crept up into the debate.

FOR IT TURNS out that the anti-abortion activists who figure that since they can’t make the termination of a pregnancy a criminal act, they will do the next best thing and make it as difficult for a woman to obtain as is possible are now turning to the health care debate.

If it turns out that purchasing plans are created to make it possible for people without insurance to actually buy an affordable health plan, the activists want to make sure that obtaining an abortion is not among the medical procedures covered.

The New York Times reports that such actions have the abortion rights crowd scared, in that they fear existing insurance plans that do cover the cost of an abortion may very well be altered to quit paying for the end of a pregnancy.

The end result is that abortion would become one of those elective medical procedures, similar to obtaining cosmetic surgery. It definitely would become something that most women would not be able to afford to do, even in cases where their physical well-being is better off by ending a pregnancy.

THOSE WHO WANT to claim the abortion supporters are somehow being paranoid, all I have to say is that I doubt it. Because the reality of most insurance policies is that they are written in ways to justify covering as little as they absolutely have to.

To an insurance company, the perfect client is the person who makes their monthly payment on time always – and never files a claim.

It is part of the reason why so many people currently do not have insurance – the old standby of pre-existing conditions. People who need health insurance to cover the cost of their treatment will have trouble getting it because the insurance companies know they will have to pay claims.

Now I know there are some people who naively feel sympathy for insurance companies, claiming that the payment of claims costs everybody money. Of course, I’d argue that the only reason to have insurance is so that it will cover the cost of treatment.

SO IN A time when insurance companies are looking for reasons to cut back on what they have to cover, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that this abortion quandary could stick.

It also does not help clarify the issue in that Obama himself has tossed out some rhetoric expressing some sympathy for the anti-abortion proponents, claiming he would not want to force for payment of elective abortions. I guess he thought such rhetoric would sway some social conservatives to his side.

All it has done is gotten worked up the people who want to think that all abortion is somehow elective, and that their partisan rhetoric about sticking up for life always seems to place a premium on the life that does not yet exist over the one that is here and now and ought to get our priority.

With the health care reform issue tainted by abortion, it might be blatantly obvious that a switch to Olympics mode might be a nice change of pace.

OF COURSE, THERE he faces the nasty rhetoric from the critics of Chicago’s bid to bring the Olympics here. Those people picketed outside of City Hall on Tuesday to express their belief that city officials can’t be trusted to ensure that the games don’t go ridiculously over budget – which they say has the potential to bankrupt Chicago city government.

A part of me has always considered their rhetoric to be a bit over the top and somewhat shortsighted (there are long-term municipal benefits to be derived from hosting an Olympic games here, if they are handled properly).

But I have never doubted the sincerity of the people who have spent the past few months trashing the thought of the Olympic flame working its way around the world to – in the end – pass through Washington Park to kick off the games seven years from now.

I also have wondered how many of those people who trash-talk a Chicago Olympiad were among those who were Obama supporters in last year’s presidential elections. I would suspect many of them were.

WHICH MAKES ME wonder if they feel as betrayed by Obama’s support for a Chicago Olympiad similar to how some of those abortion rights proponents feel about Obama, wondering if his reform plan is going to put at risk the ability of a woman to obtain what basically is a medical procedure.

I guess there are times that a president just can’t make anybody happy.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Abortion has crept its way into the nasty debate over (http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/09/29/Abortion-politics-enter-healthcare-debate/UPI-60011254226734/) health care reform.

Where does Barack Obama go when he needs a break from the health care reform and Olympics (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/28/AR2009092801150.html) debates?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Will today’s ball players turn old-school after they play out the ’09 string?

I must admit to finding it humorous whenever a contemporary baseball manager complains about how the modern-day athlete doesn’t take “the game” as seriously as the old-school athletes did back in the days when he played.

The latest example of this trend is Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox, who got upset that his ball club blew a big lead and wound up getting its butt kicked on Saturday, only to react by calmly lounging around the clubhouse and watch television.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL, TO be exact.

In short, his ball club that some of us Chicagoans had dreams would actually accomplish something this season was playing like a losing ball club just playing out the string of games (one more week, and the 2009 regular season is over).

What I find amusing about this tirade by Ozzie, or any other contemporary manager, is that I am old enough to have first learned about baseball back in the days when they were the ballplayers – and it was a batch of grizzled old farts who remembered the days of DiMaggio and Musial who were the managers.

Actually in Ozzie’s case, he was a rookie shortstop for the White Sox back when I was in college. But in the case of Lou Piniella, I remember him as a favorite ballplayer of mine back in his prime days with the New York Yankees – and still remember his defensive stop in the outfield in that 1978 tie-breaking playoff game between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox that ensured the Red Sox did not tie up the game in the ninth inning, and forever assured that one-time White Sox shortstop Bucky Dent would have his moment of baseball glory.

BUT I CAN remember when it was those managers of old who would rant and rage about the new era of ballplayer who had no loyalty to team or to fans, and was all about themselves and the money.

They were talking about guys like Piniella and Guillen, and all of their ballplaying contemporaries – who now are the management of many professional baseball organizations.

Now perhaps some of you will argue that somehow, these guys have matured in their aging years. They aren’t the same now as they were back in their 20s when they were ballplayers.

Or maybe it’s just that all this talk about old-school thought is somehow sort of a crock.

PERHAPS THE GUYS who were complained about back in the day are just using the same tired old rhetoric when it comes to letting people know their frustration about poor play on the field.

Because I’m sure there are plenty of baseball people who could come up with stories about Ozzie Guillen being less than a team player or giving top effort on the field.

Could it just be that Guillen, and all the other managers who complain about this new-style ballplayer of today, are just a little short-minded about what things were truly like in their playing days?

Could it be that some people deal best with a crushing defeat (which is what happened on Saturday) by trying immediately to forget about it and not dwell on it to the point where it interferes with one’s future athletic performance?

IN FACT, ABOUT the only point of Guillen’s rant that I truly agree with was his assessment of football in general – a game whose point I have never comprehended.

“Stupid-ass football when those (bleep) players don’t give a (bleep) about you,” says Guillen, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Of course, one could argue that the way the White Sox played in the past month, going from a team that had an outside shot at a division title and success in the American League playoffs next month to one that will need a miraculous turnaround this week to avoid finishing the 2009 season with a losing record, they also didn’t care about us fans who bothered to pay attention to the activity on the field.

So with one week left to the regular season, what should we remember about this year – one in which both teams would like to think they were contenders for a time, but in reality both fell short of the level of quality they could have achieved.

IN MY MIND, that perfect no-hit game back in July by Mark Buehrle was the highlight – a quality performance that (for one day) put the White Sox in first place. It’s just too bad they couldn’t hold on to anything, and couldn’t even finish out the season in close contention for a division title.

I suppose it was something that the Sporting News recently acknowledged that game as the performance of the first decade of this century – particularly since it made Buehrle the only pitcher in the 2000s to pitch two no-hit games.

So while baseball may continue into the early days of November, our Chicago teams are out of it. And Guillen may continue to rant about the “old school” days, just like the Sox players of today will someday complain that the athletes of the 2030s just don’t play as competitively as they did back in the old days of 2009.

Complaining ballplayers and Chicago teams winning nothing. Some concepts are truly timeless.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

President’s health care video contest has the potential to ask for trouble

How many of you remember the Chicago Sun-Times’ attempt a couple of years ago to have some fun at the expense of Sam Zell and the Chicago Tribune by organizing a contest asking people to put together videos explaining why Zell should never consider changing the name of Wrigley Field?

The Tribune managed to undermine that contest by having one of the newspaper’s interns enter, and she won. The Sun-Times’ attempt to poke fun at the competition would up making them look a little foolish.

I HAVE TO admit that remembering this stunt from early ’08 was my initial reaction to learning in an e-mail sent to me recently that the political followers of President Barack Obama are seriously resorting to a contest – asking people to put together amateur videos in the form of a commercial.

The message to be delivered?

Explaining why we, the people of this great nation, need a reform of the way in which health care is paid for in this country.

Why do I suspect that some social conservative outfit that wants to deride anything that comes from Obama as being “socialist” is already putting together some parody of what they consider to be the president’s “message.”

THEY’RE PROBABLY FINDING some youthful conservative to be the equivalent of Katie Hamilton (the Tribune intern who posed as a Cubs’ fan in the contest-winning video).

Then, if they manage to win, they will make their own announcement in an attempt to show just how “stupid” the Obama-types are in trying to use such a tactic to tout health care reform.

We’ll get to see their message as a parody that takes hidden shots at the concept. And worse, the Obama people are saying they will use the winning video on national television.

So the social conservatives may very well get airtime for THEIR message, paid for by the president’s followers.

ADMITTEDLY, BACK IN early 2008, Barack Obama was already pretty intense on the campaign trail. So perhaps he should not be expected to remember that particular Sun-Times contest gaffe.

But with all the Chicago-types who have gone to Washington to run the federal government in our city’s image for the next few years, you’d think there’d be at least one person who would remember this 21st Century example of one of the oldest games in the newspaper racket – rival papers trying to dump on each other.

And when applied to the national debate taking place these days over what form, if al all, health care reform should take, it is perfect.

For the health care reform proponents “win” if nothing happens at all.

SABOTAGING AN OBAMA video contest would fit well within their tactics.

Now as ought to be clear from my past commentaries published here, I am generally a supporter of the president. I also am a firm believer that some change needs to be made with regards to health care.

This is not an issue where doing nothing is acceptable. Of course, it wasn’t an issue where doing nothing was acceptable back in 1993 when then-President Bill Clinton put first lady Hillary R. on the job, only to see her fail to accomplish any change.

As far as I’m concerned, that means we have gone the past 16 years with a serious problem in our nation’s midst. That is something we ought to be ashamed of, but I am realistic enough to know that there are probably some people who worked against the Clintons’ health care reforms who consider the fact that nothing happened to be the highlight of their political career.

WHAT A HIGHLIGHT – they did nothing!

I don’t want to see nothing happen again. And I definitely don’t want to see any stupid gaffes that detract attention from seriously-needed reforms in the way health care if paid for – a problem so severe that roughly 47 million people in this country have no way of paying for medical treatment when it is needed.

So I’d like to have delusions that somehow, someone with ties to the president’s people will read this and be reminded of the need to be extra wary of the entries in this contest they are promoting.

Let’s be honest. This contest is less about coming up with serious public policy talking points and is more about reinforcing the image that this president is of the 21st Century and fully appreciates the ways in which the Internet can make personal messages about policy more easily accessible to the public.

I’M SURE THE person who puts together the winning video will consider it one of the most significant accomplishments of their lifetime.

Let’s just hope it becomes a significant accomplishment because it helps sway the health care reform debate, and not because it made the president and his people look like vacuous nitwits.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Can you deliver a serious message in 30 seconds? If so, Barack Obama’s allies (http://my.barackobama.com/videochallenge/) would like to see your video vision by Oct. 18.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It’s all a matter of perception

Will the day come when some tunnel dug under the walls being erected along the U.S./Mexico border to let people slip through undetected will come to be seen as some sort of historic treasure worthy of commemoration?

It may sound extreme. I’m sure the very thought will offend some people on this planet.

BUT AFTER READING an account of a suburban Chicago college that has found evidence that one of their buildings was once a part of the “Underground Railroad” path that was used by slaves trying to flee to a place where they would be regarded as human beings, I can’t help but wonder.

For the record, we’re talking about Wheaton College, which is the kind of school that imposes a strict moral code on its students (no tobacco, and dancing is frowned upon) and takes pride in the fact that the Rev. Billy Graham was once a student. It’s not a knee-jerk liberal place.

The local rumor mill always included stories that slaves once used the buildings of what was then known as the Illinois Institute to hide away until they could slip through Chicago in the darkness.

Now, officials have found entries in books kept by military regiments that made reference to specific buildings on campus being used for the Underground Railroad, and also called the school, “an abolition school in an abolition town.”

SOME PEOPLE DON’T want to believe this has any significance, claiming that if it were really true there would be much more documentation. Supporters of the concept point out that the whole “Underground Railroad” was an illegal concept – one that people would not have wanted to provide documentation of.

Nothing would have stopped a prosecutor from that era from using such documentation to prosecute the people who were supposedly helping another man’s “property” flee. It would have been regarded as some form of “theft,” and for all I know the incarcerated abolitionists likely would have been set upon by their fellow inmates for extra abuse.

And I’m sure the mentality of conventional society of the era would have looked at such thought as proper.

Now I’m not claiming that the predicament of the slaves brought to this country from the African continent (or breeded from the slaves who were purchased) is comparable to the waves of people who found the whole legal procedure of trying to get a legitimate visa to come to the United States so ridiculous and absurd that they chose to ignore it and just come.

FOR ONE THING, we’re talking about one group of people brought to this country by force, compared to another group that wants to be here.

But what is comparable is the attitude of the people who have the biggest hang-ups about the issue.

They want to repeatedly use the word “illegal” to describe the newcomers to this country because they have their own ethnic hang-ups and don’t want to have to acknowledge that these are human beings.

Dehumanizing the newcomers makes it easier for the nativist elements to look themselves in the mirror when they engage in their trash talk, which on a moral standard is of the same absurdity as those people of past centuries who would have thought that the law-and-order approach would be to side with those human beings who seriously thought that ownership of another human being could be predetermined by race, or that some people were entitled to nothing more than being owned like a piece of livestock just because of that same race.

IT WAS THOSE people who could see beyond what was supposedly “the law” to do what they thought was the morally correct thing who were the equivalent of those abolitionists of old.

It was they who offered their covert help to get enslaved human beings to a place where they could be regarded as more human than slave.

And I’m sure it is their 21st Century counterparts who will be among those who try to offer that helping hand to someone that “the law” would prefer to brand an “illegal alien.”

If it means that I think the slave-catchers of old who tried their best to snatch slaves using the routes of the “Underground Railroad” to flee the Southern states and places that were not sympathetic are comparable to the would-be vigilantes (and I include the “Minutemen” in that category, taking offense that they would use such a label loaded with historic references to describe themselves) who spend their time along the U.S./Mexico border trying to detect movement in the desert, you’d be right.

YES, I’M SURE if you went back into history, you’d find the equivalent for fleeing slaves of the “coyotes” who prey on people wanting to get into the United States, only to rob them of whatever money they have and leave them for dead.

But that, in my mind, makes them all the more sympathetic characters – the potential victims of this whole issue (and yes, I realize that line will tick off the nativists).

I also realize that it is the passage of time that now makes it possible for us to realize how wrong U.S. society was some 200 years ago. It will be that same passage of time that makes us realize the humanity of the people trying desperately to get into this country for a better life.

So I wonder, will those tunnels someday be accorded historic respect? Or are we more likely to memorialize those road signs alongside Interstate 5 near San Diego – the ones showing a silhouette of an entire family trying to run across the road from Mexico to the United States while dodging the cars speeding by.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Will we learn a century from now that a series of routes as extensive (http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=324236) as the “Underground Railroad” exists to help people coming up through the southwestern deserts into the United States?

Will this (http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/289) become a historic artifact?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Don’t get haughty. It could happen here

As a reporter-type person, I have been to enough rallies with a white supremacist tinge to them to know they all border on being comical – in a warped, twisted way.

So I would guess the events expected to take place Saturday in Belleville, Ill., (a town of about 41,000 people located just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis) will create enough moments that some of us will be inclined to laugh at the sight of those bumpkins located some 300 miles to the southwest of us.

THAT TOWN HAS its own racial “incident” going down this week. It seems that a fight on a school bus involving teenage boys resulted in a white kid getting smacked around by a batch of African-American “youths.”

And as has become the reality of modern-day news judgment, this became a story largely because of the existence of video – a security camera installed on the school bus gives us images of the whole fight.

I’m not going to dispute that the kid who was beaten up suffered some pain, nor that there isn’t an element of stupidity to the whole incidents. Be honest, most brawls result from knuckleheads losing control of themselves.

But the degree to which this is becoming a circus goes far beyond the stupidity level of the original incident.

IT SEEMS THERE will be a rally at the courthouse for St. Clair County, even though the officials who normally would have to issue a permit for such an event tell the Belleville News-Democrat newspaper that no one has contacted them.

Yet local police were aware of the event, and they say they will provide the oversight to ensure that the protest does not become a physical brawl in and of itself.

This rally is being promoted by a website called www.illinoissafechildren.com, which uses the rhetoric often touted by groups that are willing to use the muscle of white supremacist organizations but does not want to be tainted by their warped view of the world – they’re not directly responsible for who shows up.

But it seems that several groups that are white supremacist (although they will engage you in the deadly dull debate that they are really “white racialist” or “white nationalist”) also are taking up the cause.

SO WHAT WE’RE likely to see from our perch up here in Chicago is a batch of knuckleheads from all across the Midwestern U.S. (and perhaps a few from further away) who are willing to wear swastika armbands or the various blood drop insignias of the Ku Klux Klan (or perhaps just a few independent misfits whose bodies are too tattooed for them to hold down a regular job in open society) who will take great pride in being able to come outside and express their “views” in public.

They’ll be able to say “n----r” in public without having everybody around them treat them like a circus freak.

We’ll hear about how this is an example of white society being subjugated, and we’re bound to hear how this is a “hate” crime. The whole purpose of this rally, like all these white supremacist rallies on government property, is to try to somehow redirect the focus of society to a time when these nitwits were allowed to think of themselves as respectable human beings.

Now as it turns out, a local minister is disgusted enough with this spectacle that he’s planning a counter-demonstration across the street from the courthouse, saying he wants to offer decent people offended by the

I’D LIKE TO be able to laugh at this and say only in Southern Illinois could something this ridiculous occur.

But then I look at the situation in Chicago and realize that our own racial comprehension is hardly any better.

Would a similar brawl on board a school bus in a Chicago suburb create the same reaction? It could, except for the fact that so many parents (using the rhetoric of “finding a good school for my kid”) have managed to put their children into schools without much racial diversity that it might be hard to find a school bus with both black and white kids on board in significant numbers.

Just recently, I wrote a story for a newspaper in the Chicago suburbs about the perception among some local residents that a particular town has had significant increases in crime, even tough the Illinois State Police crime statistics don’t bear that perception out.

THE RESPONSE TO that story has been an ongoing debate on the Internet as to race and why it is just reality that having more black people in that town than there were 30 years ago means there is more crime.

I’m not even claiming that this particular town is unique. Our racial hang-ups make it simple reality that something this stupid could happen here too.

But the fact is that some of us have our racial hang-ups, and all it would take is one stupid, trivial incident to occur so that we in the Chicago area would become the travel destination of choice for the white supremacists who want to wear their Klan-sloganed t-shirts in public (I doubt we’ll see many actual white robes in Belleville).

Then, it would be St. Louis’ chance to laugh at “those goofs up in Chicago,” who be us.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: How long will it be until Belleville gets to laugh at the silliness (http://www.bnd.com/homepage/story/936032.html) taking place somewhere in the Chicago area, if not the city proper?

The commentary in many ways is more revealing than the actual story to which people (http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/illinois/article_5a1d79ae-69b1-5787-8043-d9e90b049256.html?mode=comments) are allegedly responding.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Could Maltese, Blagojevich (“we didn’t do it”) be Illinois' perfect political couple?

This could be a new technique – those who are convicted of criminal offenses get out of prison and sue everybody they can think of for all the bad things that happened to them during their legal proceedings.

But then again, no one would ever have thought of Betty Loren Maltese as being someone who would follow the pack. If anyone was destined to make a public splash upon completing time in prison, it would be the one-time town president of Cicero.

MALTESE WAS THE heavily made-up beauty (in her own mind) who ran Cicero government – the political entity whose historic ties ran back to the late 1920s when Al Capone used the town for a few years to evade Chicago authorities who actually had the nerve to think they should try to do something to bring his criminal behavior to an end.

The point is that for decades, Cicero political officials have suffered from the perception that they were just a little too cozy with elements of organized crime.

In Maltese’s case, her late husband was a man who mob-watchers would contend was a low-level affiliate of the Chicago “outfit.”

In the end, Maltese suffered the same fate as many other people in her circles – the federal government came after her, prosecuted a case, got a conviction, and she received an eight-year prison term (much of which has been served in facilities in the southwestern U.S.).

THESE DAYS, MALTESE is no longer being kept in prison facilities. She is far enough along in her term that she is now living at a halfway house near Phoenix, where she theoretically is being given final preparation for the day when she is set free.

But Maltese, while she claims to have no interest in returning to Cicero or Illinois to live or work (she seems to be thinking “Las Vegas”), apparently isn’t letting go of the past.

She has a lawsuit that seeks a combined total of nearly $40 million from 27 different people – all of whom she claims did something to make her life miserable during the period when she was in the news on a daily basis because she was on trial in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

As she puts it in the lawsuit (for which she is serving as her own legal representation), my, “civil rights were deliberately and flagrantly hindered and severely abused.”

AT THE TIME of her incarceration, Maltese actually had an adopted daughter who wound up going to live with her sister while Betty was in prison. But now, Maltese thinks it was bad for her sister to have the child, even though most people would be grateful that a child remained within the family – rather than being sent off to a “foster home” of sorts.

So she’s suing her sister, claiming lies were told in order for her to get custody.

She’s also suing her one-time defense attorney for not including her physical presence at some of the court hearings. She claims he told her “I don’t need you there.”

Many people enjoy the idea of not having to show up for court, and it is common in criminal cases for instances where the attorneys for all sides get together to discuss the legal issues – in hopes of cutting through some of the procedure to try to achieve an actual result a lot sooner.

HER LAWSUIT ALSO names the U.S. attorney’s office that prosecuted her, the federal court system that tried her, the Bureau of Prisons that incarcerated her.

I wonder if she seriously considered including the quality of food at the prisons she was held at, since I heard reports throughout the years that Maltese lost so much weight while incarcerated because she couldn’t bring herself to eat the foodstuffs served to inmates – much of which technically includes nutrients needed to keep someone alive but was picked more for its low purchase cost than for its substance.

It seems like anyone who had the misfortune of coming into contact with Betty Loren Maltese during her years of legal travails now faces the likelihood of being named in her lawsuit.

It is very likely that Maltese will go to her grave someday (not that I’m wishing for that to happen sooner, rather than later) believing she was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. Which is probably why we citizens of the Chicago metropolitan area are better off that Betty no longer wants to live among us.

HOW QUICKLY WOULD we become disgusted with her tales and her lawsuits and her likely future antics? She might actually make George Ryan look like a respectable, standup character by comparison.

If anything, she might very well be the Republican counterpart to Democrat Rod Blagojevich. They could both go around together claiming, “I didn’t do it.”

I understand that Maltese is contemplating her own book, partially as an attempt to explain her “story” to her adopted daughter – who was too young to understand what was happening to “mommy” while it was happening, but may someday get to see the cold hard language of the federal indictments and other legal documents related to her case.

In which case, we could take Maltese’s book and put it alongside copies of “The Governor” and try to figure out which one gives more political-style “bull” for the buck.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who protects the president’s house?

I must admit to being a little bit amazed at the thought that the Chicago Police Department was formally cutting off the detail that was offering protection to the home on the border between the Kenwood and Hyde Park neighborhoods that served as the very unhumble abode of one Barack H. Obama and family.

Amazed because I was surprised that the Chicago police were still involved.

WHILE I EXPECT local police to cooperate with the Secret Service when it comes to matters related to the president’s security, I also expect the federal agency to have control over the matter.

Perhaps this is yet another reminder that Obama of Hawaii who chose to live his adult life in Chicago has moved on with his life and really isn’t our local guy anymore.

For what it is worth, the Chicago police told the Chicago Tribune that their detail that kept an eye on the largely vacant house will be removed as of Oct. 1.

While there will be circumstances under which Chicago police will be involved in that neighborhood, it will now fall to the Secret Service to ensure that nobody tries to “get” to the president by getting to his house – even though he has spent little time there this year on account of the fact that his new “job” comes with a big white mansion.

THE ONLY CATCH is that you have to live outside of the greatest city in this country, and have to settle for a few years of life in the District of Columbia.

Now when I say “get” the president, it could be something as simple as an act of vandalism against the building. An empty house can be seen as an invitation to people with way too much free time on their hands to show up and do something immature.

When it comes to the vehemence by which Obama’s political critics view him, I wouldn’t rule out any kind of stupid act.

In fact, it is what has run through my mind ever since I learned a few weeks ago (along with many other people) that the house next door to Obama’s Chicago abode was on the market.

GETTING TO THE president could also involve trying to get ahold of that structure, in hopes that it gains one some proximity to the president.

I understand that prospective buyers wishing to see the house are being put through something resembling a security check – in hopes that a check of credit rating and criminal background will weed out obvious crackpots.

So I hope that the Secret Service fully appreciates the degree to which protecting Obama and family also includes keeping an eye on the Chicago home and even the neighborhood.

I understand that some Hyde Park residents are getting weary of the degree to which security increases on the rare occasions when Obama does return to Chicago. Perhaps it is a pain in the butt for them to have to go through a security check because they chose to take a walk to the nearby Treasure Island grocery store (one of those outfits that bills itself with pride as “America’s most European supermarket”).

BUT IT SHOULDN’T be.

Because one of the traits of the Hyde Park neighborhood is the degree to which it isolates itself from the rest of South Side Chicago.

Much of that is the way in which the University of Chicago stands out like a sore thumb from the parts of the city that like to take pride in a certain working-class atmosphere (even if in reality they charge ridiculously high rents so that no working-class person could actually afford to live there).

And then, there’s the “bottom line” issue – at least for those people who are determined to nit-pick this particular president because they can’t get over the fact that John McCain lost (and that McCain beat Mike Huckabee in the primary).

THE CHICAGO POLICE plan to get reimbursed for much of the expense of maintaining a detail of officers in the vicinity of the home.

The Tribune says that police union officials contend it will be about $1.5 million for the period from January through July, with about another $650,000 in expenses that will not be reimbursed by the federal government.

So how will the Obama critics trash him for this?

Will it be the fact that Chicago will not get about one-third of their total expense reimbursed? Or will it be the fact that the federal taxpayer will now get hit with the whole bill – even though I’d argue they probably should have been paying it the whole time.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Just one question. Who mows the lawn outside the Obama residence (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-obama-security-chicago-23-sep23,0,5836388.story) when the “first family” is out of town?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Olympic protesters take up their cause

Anyone who has been reading my commentary published here has figured out by now that I am a supporter of the concept of bringing the Olympic games to Chicago in 2016.

Part of it is that I would enjoy having such a grand spectacle being held within our wonderful city and I don’t understand the small-minded view of people who automatically think “no” when such things are proposed.

YOU WANT TO be in a place where nothing ever comes? Go live in Towanda, Ill.

But a part of me has to admit that I’m admiring the determination of the activists who have devoted significant chunks of their lives in recent months to trying to dump all over Mayor Daley’s dreams of seeing an Olympic flame lit in Washington Park, and world-class athletic events taking place throughout the city.

These people remind me of the hard-core political people in Chicago who actually align themselves with the Republican Party.

Because the city and surrounding suburban county are so heavily Democrat-leaning, anyone who openly calls themselves a Republican in Chicago is doing so because they truly have an ideological leaning that just can’t adapt to the mainstream.

IT’S NOT LIKE the Chicago GOP people get anything in the way of jobs or contracts, or even the satisfaction of seeing their candidates win.

It seems to be the same way with the “No Games Chicago” people. That’s the group that has taken up the cause of speaking out whenever city officials do anything that is intended to promote the idea of the International Olympic Committee awarding the 2016 summer games to Chicago.

They don’t really get paid for their activism. There’s a good chance their work will come to naught, if the IOC decides that the prospect of an Olympics held in the United States offers too much money to pass on.

Their activism is so low-paid that they have taken to asking for donations to help them financially. And because the group does not qualify as a 501c3 organization, none of the donations are tax deductible.

SO THERE’S REALLY no incentive for anyone to give this group a penny, unless you really are so hard-core against the Olympics that you’re willing to throw your money away.

Yet as I wrote before, I can’t help but wonder what makes them tick.

These are the people who traipsed around to all 50 wards to try to confront the Chicago 2016 committee when they held hearings all across the city to try to spread the word that the games would benefit every single neighborhood – even the ones where no events will be held and where few Olympic athlete-type people likely will stay or shop when/if they come to our city some seven years from now.

A part of me wishes these people were more aligned ideologically like me. I think there is potential for great municipal improvements that could be made to ready Chicago for a future Olympiad.

WHILE I WILL agree that it would be nice if the city were willing to make such improvements to its infrastructure to benefit the full-time residents, rather than a batch of athletes who will spend a month or so here seven years from now, I will take improvements under whatever conditions they come about.

I’d rather see these activists who are so dead-set against the Olympics using their time and effort instead to monitor the Olympic organizers’ activities.

Instead of trying to kill the games on the grounds that the cost will be overbearing, work to prevent the cost from becoming overbearing and to make sure that transportation and housing improvements are of a quality that the can be used long-term by Chicagoans for years (if not decades) after the games are history.

Yet I don’t expect them to seriously change their stance. If they read this, they may denounce it as a naïve burst of foolish rhetoric.

CONSIDERING THAT THEY’RE already planning a picket outside of City Hall for next Tuesday (just three days before the actual announcement by the IOC as to which city will get the Olympics), I expect they’re going to keep up the sporting trash talk all the way down to the count.

For all I know, they may already be rehearsing their rhetoric for responding to the IOC’s actions. Criticism if Chicago gets the games, and glee if the city doesn’t.

Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that these people do represent the views of a segment of the Chicago-area population. For all I know, President Barack Obama may very well take a personal hit in his Chicago-area favorable rating if he does wind up going to Copenhagen to try to awe the IOC with his cult of personality.

I know at least one person who would rather see the president sit back and do nothing – my mother. Every time the issue comes up, she tells me she is hoping the city does not get the games because she doesn’t want the worldwide attention on her life-long hometown.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Cubs’ Bradley criticism hypocritical

Milton Bradley was supposed to be a hard-hitting outfielder who would help the Chicago Cubs overcome their shortcomings of the past couple of seasons and actually win a National League championship.

Yet the Cubs have been far from “Fine in ’09,” in part because Bradley has not been the quality of ballplayer the ball club had hoped for. And now their fans are taking some pleasure in the fact that Bradley is suspended for the remaining two weeks of the season.

HE’S GONE. HE left St. Louis, where the Cubs were playing the Cardinals (the same ones whom White Sox “first fan” Barack Obama hinted Sunday would be playing the New York Yankees this year in the World Series). For all I know, he went to Wrigley Field on Sunday to clean out his locker before heading home for the winter.

This suspension was not imposed on Bradley by the National League. It was done by the Cubs, who think that Bradley’s behavior in a recent set of interviews with the newspaper beatwriters was less than respectful.

Reading the mini-transcript of the interview as published in the Chicago Tribune, it basically struck me as Bradley trying to say as little as he had to about his physical condition (which includes a sore shoulder).

And because he is a jock who has grown up all his life being told he is special because of his athletic ability, he was snotty and sarcastic and tried to pick phrases that implied he looked down upon the people who had the unmitigated gall (in his opinion) to ask him anything.

THE CUBS’ GENERAL manager made a statement in announcing the suspension for the rest of the season that implied the act was meant to be punishment for Bradley’s juvenile behavior.

Now don’t get me wrong. Bradley behaved like a juvenile. Then again, he’s playing a kid’s game. Who would expect him to behave any differently?

This suspension is about the fact that Bradley did not play up to the level that was expected. So the team “dirties” him up a bit, before allegedly trying to trade him to some other ball club during the off-season.

If he had been hitting and had the Cubs in the heat of a pennant race, we’d be hearing defenses of his behavior and all kinds of trash talk about how “the damned news media” was out to trick him with double-talk, or get him in some other way.

HECK, I REMEMBER the late 1970s when Dave Kingman was the big shot of Wrigleyville, with that one season (1979) when he challenged Roger Maris’ then-record for home runs in a single season.

Hitting home runs let him get away with dumping a bucket of water on a sportswriter. But years later when he was an aged slugger who didn’t hit so many home runs, it was juvenile to send a mouse to a sportswriter.

This is all about one of the oldest of baseball clichés, “You’re only as smart as your batting average.” Ballplayers who perform on the field can get away with stupid conduct. Those who don’t perform up to expectations cannot.

To say that this issue with Bradley is about anything other than him not hitting is absurd.

TRYING TO CLAIM that this is about anything else makes the Cubs organization look ridiculous. Bradley’s suspension reminds me of the end of the 2002 season when the Chicago White Sox released shortstop Royce Clayton with about a week to go.

He had developed a lackadaisical attitude and literally showed up in the late innings of one game wearing sneakers, rather than cleats.

White Sox management was openly critical of Clayton’s behavior, admitting they also didn’t like the way his hitting had declined so badly (I still remember attending the game when a sarcastic group of fans chanted “M-V-P” at Clayton when the .099-hitting shortstop managed to hit a bloop single that didn’t even make it out of the infield).

But just as Clayton turned up the next season with the Milwaukee Brewers and kept playing Major League Baseball for five more seasons, I fully expect some new team will be willing to welcome Bradley come 2010.

SO LONG AS he can hit, it won’t matter what kind of person he is. It’s those stats that matter, particularly to the breed of baseball “fan” who can’t appreciate the game played on the field, but wants to boil the whole thing down to a line of agate type consisting o percentages that no one other tham themselves understands.

After all, as the old baseball cliché goes, You’re only as smart as your batting average.”

In Bradley’s case, he was a baseball stupid .257 batting average, with only 12 home runs and a weak on-base percentage of .378.

Not exactly the numbers demanded of a $30 million man.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Who will take the outspoken outfielder for 2010, and how much of the (http://blogs.chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sports_hardball/2009/09/bradley-not-with-cubs-hendry-will-address-team.html) $20 million remaining on Milton Bradley’s contract will the Chicago Cubs have to pay off themselves?

Most of us came to the realization that ’09 was NOT the White Sox’ year a couple of weeks ago (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032608/#32930468) and instead viewed Saturday night’s victory (with Jake Peavy pitching) against the Kansas City Royals as perhaps reason for hope in ’10.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just because people don’t want to hear about Tamms doesn’t make it lesser issue

I understand why most people don’t want to have to think about issues related to prison conditions.

Those of us with any sense of compassion get squeamish at the thought of some of the things that happen in the places where people supposedly are being rehabilitated, while some of us have a twisted enough sense that we enjoy the thought of an inmate suffering somewhat.

BUT THE CONDITIONS at the Tamms Correctional Center (the place where inmates who misbehave in maximum-security prisons are sent as punishment) are severe enough that we as a society probably do need to have a serious discussion about what is appropriate when it comes to inmate discipline.

For the record, I have only been to Tamms once (about 10 years ago as a reporter-type person). I still remember walking through the halls of the facility thinking it was unlike any prison or jail facility I had ever been inside before.

The only other person I saw was the corrections officer who was escorting me to the spot where I was to meet Corrections Department officials. There was none of the rambling noise or clamor of a prison.

No obscenities being shouted me by inmates. But the excess control of movement made for a more tense vibe than I had ever felt inside a prison, or just about any place no matter how intense the security is.

THE “GIMMICK” ABOUT Tamms is that it is a “control unit” facility (although the TV types generally prefer to call it “Supermax”), which means that inmates are kept in their cells for 23 hours per day, and are isolated to such a heavy degree that they never come into contact with each other.

And when it comes to cells, we’re not talking about anything with iron bars and windows. We’re talking closed-off rooms with iron doors.

We’re talking about total isolation from human contact – except to the degree that a guard will have to drop off a meal at the inmate’s cell or escort the inmate to a fenced-in area for an hour’s worth of physical stretching or other exercise per day.

Now if this were truly a case where an inmate was shipped to Tamms for a few weeks of isolation, then sent back to their more conventional (and usually much older) prison facility, there might not be the controversy.

AFTER ALL, PRISONS have usually had a “segregation” unit to keep problem inmates separate from others – sometimes for the isolated inmate’s own safety.

But we’re talking about inmates spending months and months being isolated from any human contact, which can have the effect of messing mentally with those individuals.

We’re talking about some problem inmates who caused so much havoc in the Illinois Department of Corrections that they were shipped to Tamms (the land where one is closer physically and in spirit to Jackson, Miss., than to Chicago) when the facility opened in 1998 – and remain there to this day.

Perhaps it is no great loss that Henry Brisbon (the I-57 Killer of 1970s fame who has since killed another inmate and once attacked notorious serial killer John Gacy when they were at the state prison in Pontiac) is being kept under such conditions, as prison officials believe he is beyond control except under the most extreme circumstances.

BUT IT WOULD seem that the Illinois Department of Corrections is becoming too comfortable with the thought of leaving inmates in Tamms for extended time periods.

There is a reason that Amnesty International, the group that monitors conditions around the world looking for instances of torture and abuse, thinks that the concept of “control unit” prison facilities is just as much torture as anything done in a Cuban facility controlled by the Castro Brothers.

Part of torture is breaking people down mentally.

And whether one wants to accept it or not, forced isolation can cause just about anyone to crack.

IT CAN LITERALLY get to the point where one spends so much time cut off from the rest of the world that they lose what little ability they ever had to interact with other people. Whether that makes them more likely to lash out, or become the victim of such people, varies from person to person.

This is a situation that cannot carry on the status quo.

Just because this particular facility has been built in the most isolated end of Illinois does not give the Illinois public the excuse to ignore the situation.

So it would be nice if Corrections Director Michael Randle were to be successful in implementing portions of a 10-point plan he has concocted in response to the studies that trash the “control-unit” concept.

PROBABLY THE MOST significant of those changes is that inmates will have to be given a serious guess at how long they will be held at the facility. It also would restrict stays at Tamms to no more than a year, unless state officials can justify longer incarceration periods.

These ideas only make sense because prison officials have always defended the concept of prisons like Tamms by saying they are designed for discipline of problem inmates, not their permanent incarceration.

So if the intent is that inmates will eventually be returned to other prisons, we should probably give up on policies meant to mollify that portion of the population that is deluded enough to think that “throwing away the key” accomplishes anything.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Would you subscribe to the Sun-Times?

I got my chuckle when I picked up a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times (and not just from that photograph of President Barack Obama looking like a dork while waving that toy “light saber” about) and saw the advertising sticker that had been pasted onto Page One.

It was an in-house advertisement, letting me know the telephone number and/or website I could use if I wanted to get home delivery of the Sun-Times. “Save big with home delivery!,” it told me.

YET READING IN recent days the various reports about the editorial staffs of the newspapers owned by the Sun-Times company that are represented by the Newspaper Guild, I can’t help but think the Sun-Times’ death date will come sometime on or about Oct. 1.

I’d like to be wrong. I’d really enjoy it if the Sun-Times were still alive on the Day of the Dead (that’s Nov. 1). But I can’t say I see any real reason for optimism. We could soon see the day when “Mother Tribune,” the behemoth that generations of Chicagoans have mocked for its arrogance, becomes the sole source of actual reporting on a daily basis for the Second City.

Keep in mind I’d be equally disgusted if it were the Chicago Tribune that were on the verge of disappearing, with the Sun-Times facing the possibility of being the remaining newspaper in Chicago. Over the years, I have developed the attitude that I can’t trust any one publication to let me know what is happening.

It usually is through a combination of sources that I can get some sense of what is happening in the world of public affairs, and how badly the politicians are performing at doing “the people’s business.”

FOR THOSE WHO are about to scream at their computer screens, “What about the Internet!,” I’d cite the Chi-Town Daily News, which nobly tried to cover some stories in certain North Side neighborhoods but recently had to lay off what little paid staff they had and is only remaining alive through the efforts of unpaid volunteers while they try to figure out how to raise the kind of money they need to cover the news.

But it is learning how overwhelmingly the editorial staffs of the guild-controlled newspapers (the Sun-Times, the Herald News of Joliet and the News Sun that used to be of Waukegan, along with the Post-Tribune that probably wishes it had never been the paper of Gary, Ind.) are voting to reject the concessions that are being demanded by the prospective buyer of the company that makes me think there isn’t much hope for survival.

I can remember when the Sun-Times management, throughout the years, acquired all those suburban newspaper properties out of the idea that they would help prop the company up and make the overall entity stronger.

Now, it appears the Sun-Times’ unique situation is going to drag them all down, because no one seems to want to think that perhaps some of them should have a life A.S. (after Sun-Times).

PERSONALLY, I DON’T blame the union-represented reporters who are voting against the desired changes, most of which basically want to do away with all the job protections that are the whole purpose of having a labor union to begin with.

Especially in this age when there always is the chance that these cutbacks could be followed up by more layoffs (not that there’s much staff to lay off), I can see why someone would want some sort of protection for whatever severance they might be entitled to.

A personal disclosure on my part. I have worked throughout the years for various news organizations, some of which were union represented and others weren’t. I can honestly say the one layoff I endured in the past decade that gave me anything resembling advance warning that my job was in danger and something close to severance that helped tide me over until I found new work was when I was laid off from an organization where reporters were union-represented.

The others were the ones that took the attitude I should be thankful to get that one week’s extra pay, even though they were asking me to leave the premises immediately – which means in their mindset they paid me for a week I didn’t work.

NOW READING THE commentary that often gets tagged onto stories published on websites, I know some people think it is unfair that the reporters at the union-organized papers have a say in this whereas reporters at the papers that don’t have the Newspaper Guild are being ignored.

All I can say is that I know in a few of those papers’ cases, the reporters themselves rejected attempts to organize. So I can’t say I feel all that sympathetic towards their predicament – at least no more than anyone else who is facing the prospect of having a company shot out from under their feet.

If it seems like I think the people who are just naively anti-labor union are trying to exploit the debate surrounding this particular predicament, you’d be correct.

What this ultimately comes down to is a vision of what this particular company ought to be about. Reading the comments coming from the prospective buyer (who claims he’s taking back his offer of $5 million, plus a willingness to take on $20 million in debt, if it’s not accepted as-is by Sept. 29), it seems like he envisions the future of the company as turning all those individual properties into one great big paper of sorts.

IT SEEMS LIKE he wants to kill off the identity of some publications that have a century of history to them and turn them into zoned editions of the Sun-Times. That’s now I interpret the rhetoric about “universal desks” for the papers.

The Post-Tribune as the Indiana edition of the Sun-Times? The Beacon News as the Kane County edition of the paper. The Sun-Times proper for the city, with the SouthtownStar (the latter portion of which I wrote for back when they tried unsuccessfully to organize some 22 years ago) and the Pioneer Press papers for the inner suburbs of Cook County?

Of course, it seems they want to use the lesser pay scales of the suburban press, rather than the Sun-Times pay scale where reporters there were once among the best paid in the U.S. newspaper business.

So if it sounds like I can understand why reporters/union members might choose the possibility of “death” by voting against the changes, it makes all too much sense.

IT MIGHT ALSO be appropriate that I stopped off at a bookstore and happened upon a copy of “My Kind of 'Toon, Chicago Is.” That’s a new book release featuring the cartoons drawn throughout the decades by Jack Higgins – the Sun-Times editorial cartoonist.

Because unless something breaks soon, this volume could wind up being the only place I can turn to see the work of the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist whose work intrigues me, even on occasions when he takes an editorial stance that infuriates me.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Park District brings question to my mind – “Are they kidding?” about Payton

In theory, I want to give the Chicago Park District a pat on the back for taking a hard line stance with regards to the family of Chicago Bears great Walter Payton, who want to put a statue of “Sweetness” outside the stadium where the Bears play.

That stadium, of course, is Soldier Field, and it has been owned by the Chicago Park District for decades. It was originally built to be a public facility for sporting events to be witnessed by the masses of Chicago.

IT ALSO WAS to serve along with Navy Pier as a memorial to the military personnel of this nation – Soldier Field and Navy Pier. Now if we could only find something in this city to name for the Air Force and the Marines, we’d have the perfect set.

But it is because of that tradition that the building that seats more than 60,000 people for Bears games eight Sundays each year is a military memorial that the Park District is refusing to allow the Payton statue.

They told the Chicago Tribune that putting up the statue would diminish the memory of the soldiers, even though I’m sure the masses who tailgate outside Bears games probably think more of Payton than any soldier.

It is a nice ideal. I’d like to think that the Park District is sincere in saying such a thing.

BUT I AM one of those people who thinks that the 2001 renovation of Soldier Field killed off any semblance of the building being a war memorial – even though the renovated stadium’s advocates will claim that people can now check out the columns that pay tribute to soldiers.

In fact, any time people mock the Yankee Stadium renovation of the mid-1970s as somehow ruining the historic character of that building, I’d argue that the Soldier Field renovation was worse.

It literally got the building knocked off the National Register of Historic Places, because the changes to put in all those seats that sort of hover over the field (as though it is better to be sky-high than many rows back) obliterated the feel of what made Soldier Field architecturally unique.

So the idea that anyone seriously believes it is a war memorial any longer is absurd, although it probably maintains more character than Navy Pier, which has been turned into a commercial shopping center for the tourist-minded among us.

IN SHORT, CHICAGO has in recent years dumped on what was supposed to be its significant memorials to the military.

So the idea that anyone is now trying to use the military and its supposed presence as an excuse to avoid making some change is absurd.

Particularly since I can envision this rejection managing to offend many Chicago Bears fans who see how so many other new stadiums include among their decorative elements all kinds of statues paying tribute to the top ballplayers in those particular franchise’s histories.

Even in Chicago, just about every other building used for professional sports has these statues – with the best known being that one of Michael Jordan dunking a bronze basketball outside the United Center – and across the street from the Chicago Stadium where his Hall of Fame-quality pro basketball career began.

HECK, EVEN HARRY Caray gets a statue (the one that intoxicated Chicago Cubs fans like to load up with cans of Budweiser) outside Wrigley Field just for slurring his way through 17 years worth of Cubs baseball broadcasts (he really was on top of his game with the St. Louis Cardinals and the White Sox).

So I’m sure there are people who are going to be critical of the Park District and accuse them of disrespecting the memory of Payton, a Hall of Fame football player in his own right.

It turns out that Payton’s widow, Connie, wants this memorial to her late husband (who hasn’t played for the Bears in two decades and has been deceased for 10 years now, time flies too fast).

She’s willing to arrange to have the statue made and to donate it, provided they promise to erect it in a place where it will be seen (and not just become the receptacle for bird droppings).

EVEN THE BEARS themselves (who, let’s be honest, often show a knack for boneheaded public relations moves) are on board, saying they will try to talk some sense into the heads of their landlords to allow for the statue to be erected somewhere.

So I’m wondering how the Park District will wind up backing away from their “military memorial” stance while trying to pretend they didn’t change a thing. For the reality is that modern-day governments build these stadiums (or – in the case of the Chicago Park District – renovate them to the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars), but then give the teams total control over how they are used.

In some cases, they even let the teams have the bulk of the revenues that are earned (parking, concessions) from staging private athletic events in what ostensibly are public buildings.

Just so long as nobody gets the “bright” idea of trying to pay tribute to the memory of the definitely un-immortal Bobby Douglas. For that one, I would be willing to buy the “soldier memorial” excuse.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

EXTRA: There’s no “clout” in Cook County government hiring. Stroger says so

Perhaps it was the effect of the Allegra that he said he took Wednesday morning, but Cook County Board President Todd Stroger seemed in a snarkier-than-usual mood when the county board met Wednesday.

What else would make him say a statement that is bound to come back to haunt him as evidence that he’s somehow out of touch with reality? Does he really believe that anybody will believe his comments that there is no political favoritism involved in working for the county government?

IT CAME UP during a discussion of how the county is trying to comply with court decrees that try to make local government operate more honestly and fairly (rather than refusing to hire “nobody nobody sent”).

Compliance Administrator Mary Robinson told the county board members that determining who is a government employee hired solely for political reasons and who is a legitimately hard-working employee is not a simple, cut-and-dried issue.

“Your systems can be manipulated,” Robinson said, later adding, “I can’t tell you who’s clout.”

To which Stroger cut her off by saying, “I can tell you, None.”

LATER, HE ADDED, “we don’t use clout in” human resources.

It makes me wonder if Stroger is one of those people who honestly thinks that the White Sox are still in the pennant race because they have those six games remaining head-to-head against the Detroit Tigers.

Or is this just the usual rhetoric about good government from political people to whom it is not their top priority.

It wasn’t even his only moment.

STROGER STARTED OFF the county’s session by letting us all know how he plans to get himself an influenza shot in upcoming days to deal with the possible spread of H1N1, along with more conventional strains of the flu.

It’s a cute comment. Considering that signs hanging around the County Building/City Hall say, “It’s simple. Wash your hands,” it would have fit in with the idea of a simple gesture to promote public health.

Yet Stroger insisted on turning his intent to get that flu shot into a political shot at his opponents who wanted to reduce the county’s portion of the sales tax.

As Stroger so bluntly dumped on his political colleagues, “those of us who are lucky to have insurance can just make an appointment.”

HE THEN ADDED, “it can be work for those low-income people to get them flu shots.”

As though a potential spread of H1N1 into the Chicago area could be blamed on the majority of the county board that wished to reduce the sales tax in the city from 10.25 percent to 9.75 percent (and down to about 9 percent in most of suburban Cook).

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Fat chance!

It’s the dream of any journalist who has worked his way to a point where he (or she) can express opinion and have a voice – something I write actually motivates somebody in authority to take a specific action.

Yet there are other times when a columnist or commentator (or an ever-anonymous editorial writer using the political pull of his particular newspaper) takes a stance that will create only one reaction – hysterical laughter.

THOSE ARE THE times when we take a stance that we know there is no chance that the people in power will go along with. If anything, they will use it as an example of how out of touch we writers are with the way things work.

What we’re usually trying to express is the way we think things should work, in hopes that we could motivate voters to dump on certain elected officials for taking such a hard-line stance in the opposite direction.

That has been the motivation behind some of the commentaries I have written and published at this site. And it obviously is the motivation behind editorials published Tuesday by two of the daily newspapers based in the Chicago suburbs.

For I don’t envision Cook County Board President Todd Stroger reading the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, finishing their editorial, and coming to the conclusion, “They’re right. I am a liability. I should drop out of the Democratic primary.” IN FACT, I’D think there’s a better chance that the Times of Northwest Indiana, a Munster, Ind.-based newspaper, would have a better chance of persuading Mayor Richard M. Daley, if he read their Tuesday editorial that says Chicago should give up all talk of opening a casino within the city limits, on the grounds that Lake County, Ind., needs it more.
Which is to say that I seriously could envision Stroger and Daley getting together on Tuesday to compare editorials, to see which one they think has less of an understanding of the City Hall mentality (which pervades into the other half of the building used by Cook County government).

Like I said, these are cases of editorial writers attempting to use what influence they have to get people worked up against Stroger and Daley.

In the case of Stroger, that editorial was written more for those northwest suburban people who are the base of the Stroger opposition that will be determined to see him defeated in the Feb. 2 Democratic primary.

IF BY CHANCE he somehow survives that primary, they will come after him with everything they’ve got in the November 2010 general election. There are times I wonder if they’re more interested in dumping Stroger than they are getting a Republican elected as Illinois governor or U.S. senator?

They want to put the idea into peoples’ heads that Stroger could decide to just walk away, and that he is somehow politically (as well as personally) defective for not using such an option.

So when he remains on the ballot, his very existence will be considered a character issue. It is cheap. It is petty. But it may very well be effective in terms of stirring up opposition from some people who might otherwise wind up apathetic and decide to stay at home, rather than go out to the polls and vote for, “Anyone But Todd!”

What of the other long-shot editorial, the one related to casinos in Chicago?

IN THE INTEREST of disclosure, I should admit that I do some work for the Times of Northwest Indiana, although I have never had anything to do with the newspaper’s editorial page. Nor have I ever met the editorial page editor.

So the first indication I had that this issue would come up was when I read the editorial in the newspaper (for some reason, the editorial page portion of the website http://www.nwitimes.com/ was not updated) Tuesday morning.

I agree with the overall stance, but not for the reason the newspaper advocates.

The idea that an Indiana-based newspaper would take the stance of what is good for their particular county, rather than what would benefit the entire Chicago metropolitan area (which stretches into Indiana at that point) is predictable. It is parochial.

BUT WHEN IT comes to the long-expressed desires of Daley to have casinos of some form in the city, I have always thought that small-minded.

I always thought that Chicago’s greatness gave it access to opportunities (such as hosting an Olympic games) on a scale that most municipalities (even some significantly large ones like Cleveland or Detroit) can only dream of.

So why do we have a mayor who is so eager to take on an idea that was created by the Illinois Legislature to benefit obscure towns along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers that can’t come up with anything better on their own?

For that matter, they’re probably better suited to a deteriorated city such as Gary, Ind., where local officials want to move the licenses that allow for gambling boats on Lake Michigan to a land-based site just off Interstate 80/94 (which would give very easy access to gamblers from Chicago).

SO WHEN THE newspaper writes, “Chicago should build on its strengths, not sap the strength of its surrounding area,” I can chuckle along with the mayor and his proponents, who will dismiss the idea as just Hoosiers being overly parochial.

But when one thinks about it logically, shouldn’t it really be the mayor getting chuckled at for expending so much energy throughout the years on a money-making mechanism that was intended for places such as Metropolis (Pop. 6,540)?

Who’s really thinking like a rube?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Todd Stroger needs to go! This editorial is more about making people upset (http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=321349&src=) that he won’t go away, than trying to sway the Son of John himself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Oprah an adequate substitute for Obama in touting Chicago Olympics bid?

There is a part of me that has never understood why the presence of certain people should have an influence on the outcome of events.

Why should it matter whether or not Barack Obama physically shows up in Copenhagen next month when the International Olympic Committee makes public its decision on where the summer Olympic Games are held in 2016?

DO WE REALLY believe the IOC is so lame-brained that they will go “ga ga” at the mere sight of Barack? Or are they so venal as to demand that a chief executive take time out of his schedule to “kiss the ring,” so to speak, of the president?

The logical part of my mind thinks it ought to be irrelevant to the process of picking a site for an Olympic games to be held seven years from now what Obama chooses to do with his public schedule on Oct. 2, 2009.

Yet already, we’re getting the Olympics prognosticators trying to make something out of the fact that Obama is not in Europe these days sucking up to IOC officials. He sent his wife, instead.

Personally, I’d find some face time with Michelle Obama to be more enjoyable than the president. For all I know, many IOC members may feel the same way.

YET ALREADY WE’RE getting the speculation that strikes me as being over the top.

Is Obama’s refusal to go to the IOC in recent days evidence that maybe he knows something to the effect that Chicago’s bid for the Olympics in ’16 is doomed? So his refusal to go is a way of distancing himself from the whole effort.

After all, Obama has publicly said he’d enjoy being president at a time when the Olympics came not only to his home nation, but to his home city – literally just a few blocks from that mini-mansion in the area where the Kenwood and Hyde Park neighborhoods converge.

Would it be a blot on his legacy if the IOC chose some place other than Chicago for 2016? Or could it be that the IOC is in awe of the idea of a South American Olympics – making Rio de Janeiro their favorite site?

PERSONALLY, I WOULD think it would be more of a blot on his legacy if he let Michelle Obama’s presence in Europe these days be seen as the reason for the Olympics not coming to Chicago.

Or could the pundits who predict that Obama will make a last-minute change in his schedule so he can be on hand Oct. 2 in Copenhagen. The chance to be seen at the moment of what could be one of Chicago’s greatest glories would be too much for Obama to resist.

There also are those people who think Obama will find a substitute to pitch Chicago – and some of that speculation is centering on the woman whom some like to credit with giving us the concept of Barack Obama as a U.S. president to begin with.

Will we get Oprah Winfrey trying to use her charm to sway the IOC to bring the Olympic games to the city where her production company and famed television talk show are based (even though she hasn’t really lived among us in years)?

WINFREY HERSELF MADE the comment to the Chicago Tribune, which had a reporter-type person in Toronto to cover the opening of “Precious,” a film of which she is an executive producer.

“If I feel I can be useful there, then that’s what I will do,” she told the newspaper. Of course, she also told other reporter-types that she does not see herself as needing to get politically involved, saying she thinks helping to get Obama elected was significant enough.

So who knows what she will actually do? A live version of the “Oprah Winfrey Show” from Copenhagen on Oct. 2? It makes as much sense as anything else that will be proposed in coming weeks.

I suppose in the superficial sense of needing a “big name” in Copenhagen, “Oprah” could substitute for “Obama” in terms of trying to draw attention to the merits of holding an Olympic games in the United States and in Chicago specifically.

BUT WHY SHOULD it really matter which “big name” is on hand to hear the announcement, since I’m sure that the officials from Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid will come up with names their consider equally big.

Does Chicago’s merits to host an international spectacle really decline significantly just because Obama chooses to not have Air Force One take him to Copenhagen?

It almost makes me wonder if the Chicago 2016 officials did a weak job on promoting Chicago’s merits for hosting such an event, if so much attention is being paid on whether or not Obama will show up – or whether he gets an adequate substitute.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course Chicago 2016 would like to have Oprah Winfrey (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-oprah-chicago-olympics-14-sep14,0,4563629.story) on board in support of their work.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chicago politics gets new conspiracy

Why, oh why, do I suspect that the death of Christopher Kelly will never be resolved to the satisfaction of the people whose determination in life is to see Rod Blagojevich get attacked in prison?

Because the way this particular police investigation has stumbled out of the block makes me think that there will be plenty of questions for people to dispute whatever findings are eventually reached.

KELLY IS THE one-time political fundraiser who, in the course of federal investigators looking for dirt on Blagojevich, got caught in some irregularities of tax law. He received a prison term earlier this summer of just over three years, was facing more criminal charges and was expected to have to start serving his time soon.

But now, his corpse has been picked over by the Cook County medical examiner’s office, which on Sunday could not come up with a definitive cause of death. More tests will have to be done.

There is circumstantial evidence to indicate this may be a suicide. If so, then it could be sad that Kelly (who was only 51) decided that death was preferable to having to do time in a federal prison. That isn’t an unheard of choice, and I’m sure it will happen many times in the future.

Of course, those future people likely won’t have a connection to someone with the notoriety of Blagojevich. So they won’t have every move of the resulting investigation coming under incredible scrutiny.

THAT SCRUTINY HAS already created comical images – such as the sight of a mayor holding up the driver’s license of a woman who reportedly was Kelly’s girlfriend (yes, he was married to someone else) as though he can somehow expose her to the public – a scarlet “A” and all.

What makes this one a little intriguing is that the girlfriend lives in suburban Country Club Hills. So this one doesn’t involve the Chicago Police Department. Richard M. Daley will be spared any ridicule for police ineptitude over this one.

We got to see Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch holding up the license, while also denouncing the woman because her reaction to learning that the police wanted to talk to her was to get an attorney.

Which is probably smart. Because since there is a chance she was with him in his final hours of life, she’s likely going to be asked specific questions. The slightest slipup could result in a criminal charge.

BUT AS WELCH – the man who previously was known for being the lone public official who thinks a riverboat casino in Country Club Hills would make sense despite the lack of a nearby river – described it, she is now, “lawyering up.”

How dare she try to look out for her rights! Of course, some “conspiracy theory” types find it suspicious that her attorney was once one of Blagojevich’s attorneys.

Now I’m sure police in Country Club Hills would like to wrap this up as quickly as possible. They’d rather go back to being the town whose name makes it sound more impressive than it really is.

Having this crime with its political implications lingering over the town could cause a smear on the public image – even though throughout the years Country Club Hills has had a population of people who never would be admitted to any real-life country club.

THIS ONE WILL linger in large part because there already is speculation bopping about the Internet that this was somehow NOT a suicide. This was a “murder” done for political cover to keep Kelly quiet and prevent other political people from being taken down by federal prosecutors.

Not that anybody has any evidence of such a view. In fact, I feel downright ridiculous for having typed out such an over-the-top sentence. But anything that gets the name “Blagojevich” tagged to it these days is going to bring out the over-the-top reactions in some people.

There are those who are quick to bash Blagojevich himself for releasing a public statement upon learning of Kelly’s death. The fact that the statement expressed condolence and sympathy to Kelly’s family doesn’t matter. How dare Blagojevich express concern for somebody else!

There also are those who want to denounce Kelly as some sort of coward for having the unmitigated gall to die before serving a prison term. That just strikes me as grotesque – and anybody who has the nerve to think such a thing is diminished as a human being in my eyes.

IN FACT, IT is more disgusting than the one offbeat tidbit that came from the Country Club Hills police about how they are handling this investigation.

It turns out that the girlfriend found Kelly at a local lumber yard where he had vomited – which is what caused her to take him to an area hospital from which he eventually was transferred to Stroger Hospital in Chicago, where he was pronounced dead Saturday morning.

Police investigators went to the lumberyard to see if they could get any samples of Kelly’s vomit so as to provide additional evidence of what he might have had in his system at the time he became ill.

Yuck!

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EDITOR’S NOTES: I haven’t changed my mind significantly about the overall safety of society (http://chicagoargus.blogspot.com/2009/06/rat-race-begins.html) without Christopher Kelly.

The death of Kelly (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/us/13kelly.html?_r=1) has become a part of “All the News that’s Fit to Print.” And on the local front, Dwight Welch (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/09/mayor-kellys-girlfriend-is-lawyered-up-not-talking.html) gets his moment of attention.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Will it matter that Quinn is now the officially preferred gubernatorial candidate of the Cook County Democratic Party?

There’s only one statement I can positively make. The attention span of Chicagoans on Friday was focused on a Springfield. Of course, I suspect more cared about the Massachusetts version of the city rather than the central Illinois version.

I’m realistic enough to know that more people were probably intrigued by the hoopla surrounding the Basketball Hall of Fame – which on Friday officially recognized Chicago Bulls immortal Michael Jordan as one of the all-time athletic greats – than they gave any consideration about who should become this state’s next governor.

BUT THE POWERS-that-be of the Cook County Democratic Organization held their slating sessions in recent days, and on Friday made the announcement that they are backing Pat Quinn’s campaign for election to his own full term, instead of picking the son of longtime Chicago politico Tom Hynes – who also wants to run for that office.

There is a part of me that finds such action ironic.

For these slating sessions are the 21st Century version of the old “smoke-filled rooms” of party hacks who would decide among themselves who the candidates should be that “the people” will elect to government office in upcoming elections.

Pat Quinn has always tried to be the ultimate good government type – the “goo goo” who rails against the indecency of having Democratic Party hacks having any say in terms of who gets to run in a primary election.

YET HE SURE didn’t do anything to reject such slating. It will enhance the political rhetoric when Republican opponents try to label Quinn as just another Chicago political hack.

Of course, the modern-day GOP always tries to label any Democrat in this state as a Chicago political hack – even if they have no connection to Chicago. So Quinn might as well take the ceremonial rhetoric that comes along with being the officially slated candidate for governor in the Feb. 2, 2010 primary.

The real question is whether people will care about who gets slated for governor.

Could this be an election where all those Democrats who throughout the years were dumped on by Quinn and his good government antics will be willing to openly ignore the decision of the Cook County Democratic organization and vote for Dan Hynes – who in many ways fits the image of what a 21st Century Chicago Democrat is about.

BECAUSE THE REALITY is that the only people who care about who gets slated by the party for political office are the party regulars – the ones who are in government because it is their employer or they support some interest group.

How many local Democratic voters with ties to the labor unions that have endorsed Hynes will decide that their union, and not their party, got it right in the pick for governor?

The ones who are “into” politics because of ideology aren’t going to care who gets slated. If anything, they may be the ones who will wonder if this means that Pat Quinn has now “sold out” his soul in order to get himself elected to his own four-year term as governor come the November 2010 general election.

There was a part of me that thought the Democratic organization types who gathered at the hotel Chicago insiders will always think of as the Bismarck Hotel would decide to slate no one.

TAKE NO STAND.

It may sound cowardly to some, but it is a way of saying that the party faithful are so split that no one should be able to go through a campaign season calling themselves the officially preferred choice of the Democratic Party.

That is what the Cook County Dems did for lieutenant governor and for county board President. Despite the pleas of Todd Stroger that his incumbency status warranted some special consideration, the party is doing nothing – thereby leaving him on an equal playing field with the other four candidates who wish to replace him at the head of county government.

But when one thinks about it rationally, I can understand why Quinn got the slating.

HE IS THE incumbent. After going through a 26-year time period in Illinois with Republicans as governor of the state, I’m sure one of the last things that Democrats here want is to lose this office to a candidate of the GOP.

I’m sure there is a part of the Democratic Party that would like it if Hynes were to back down so that more attention could be spent focusing on keeping the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in the hands of a Democratic candidate.

There is the fact that the older party types can remember 1976, when incumbent Gov. Dan Walker was dumped in a primary fight led by Chicago politicos who were disgusted by him. The winner of that primary – Michael Howlett – wound up so weak that he lost to James R. Thompson (the man who began that 26-year GOP streak).

It ultimately is because of this factor that Lisa Madigan backed away from her preferred goal of running for governor and decided to try to keep her current post of state attorney general – why run for governor if there’s no chance you get slated and your candidacy gets viewed in some segments of Illinois political society as a spoiler.

NOW, IT IS Hynes who has the potential to fulfill that role. And it is Quinn who gets to fill a niche I’m sure he never would have envisioned for himself eight years ago – the officially slated choice for governor by the Cook County Democrats.

What next; Michael Jordan returns to the NBA? Then again, the idea of Quinn as an establishment Democrat is about as absurd as that stint Jordan did with the Washington Wizards.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Stroger poll results not so surprising

Usually, I detest having to write about political polls.

Not because of some high-minded opposition to taking poll results and over-exaggerating their significance. But because the newsgathering organizations I have worked for throughout the years were usually cheap and wouldn’t pay for such studies.

SO WRITING ABOUT a poll meant giving free publicity to some other news shop. What’s the point?

But the Chicago Tribune this week published a story about their latest poll – one that is meant to make Cook County Board President Todd Stroger look less popular than Rod Blagojevich.

Seriously!

They have him with a 10 percent favorable rating, which is lower than the poll the Tribune took last year that had Blagojevich (still governor then) with only a 13 percent favorable rating.

THE THING TO keep in mind is that polls are very fluctuating. It is possible to construct a poll that can back up just about any conclusion. I remember just a few days after the Tribune’s 13 percent approval rating for Blagojevich, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch came up with their own poll that put Blagojevich closer to about 30 percent approval.

Still awful, but nowhere near as historic as the Tribune level.

So is it possible that someone could come up with a poll that would not make Stroger look as dismal? Of course it is.

Could it be that the Tribune, as part of its editorial crusading, would like to see Stroger taken down and would use this tidbit as part of its evidence in its reporting in the future? Yes, it is possible.

IN FACT, GO into the African-American community of Chicago, and you will find people who are convinced it is the establishment press that is out to get Stroger and is publishing content meant to make him look foolish and trivial – all so that he will lose the Feb. 2 primary election.

I don’t know if I quite buy into that, but I will go so far as to say that the people who oppose Stroger most vehemently have an absurd notion of themselves as the “good guys” taking on a corrupt, venal person.

Actually, I should take back that corrupt, venal part. Stroger’s critics tend to think of him as more incompetent than plotting.

In fact, there’s really only one part of the Tribune’s poll that catches my interest – the part about his support in the African-American community.

THE NEWSPAPER CONTENDS that a slight majority of African-American people oppose Stroger, and that only about one-fifth approve of his job performance. The remaining one-third are in the various categories of not quite sure what to think of Stroger.

I always wondered if Stroger’s best chance at winning a primary would be if he became the candidate whose presence on the ballot ensured that there’d be at least one younger African-American official on the Democratic ticket (at age 75, Jesse White as Secretary of State is too old to fill that role) come November 2010.

So are we destined to see a primary next year where the four African-American candidates split up the vote, making it possible for the lone white guy (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O’Brien) to win?

State Sen. (and Rev.) James Meeks, D-Chicago, seems to think so, telling WBEZ-FM that he seriously hopes one or more of the black candidates drops out of the race – although none thus far have indicated any willingness to do so.

I HAVE ALWAYS believed that the vehemence to Stroger was due solely to the circumstances under which he got elected – his father, John, became ill and had to be replaced on the ballot.

So no one ever got to challenge Todd Stroger in an election. He got the benefits of incumbency handed to him.

If it reads like I’m saying some people were determined to put the most negative spin on anything Stroger did, regardless of what he did, so they could dump on him come the 2010 elections, then you’re reading me correctly.

If anything, that is why logic gets (to use the old cliché) thrown out the window when it comes to the sales tax charged in Cook County.

BECAUSE THE EXPLANATIONS given by Stroger and his supporters about how the county’s portion of the tax is minimal (the state gets more than half of it) and how the money is desperately needed to maintain county government programs – particularly those that impact the public health – are totally logical.

But who wants to hear logic when it comes to Todd Stroger? It seems that he brings out the “lynch mob” mentality of some people – Get the bum! Take him down! Worry about the reason why afterward.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Is Todd really lower than Rod when it comes to our local political people (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-stroger-poll-story,0,522197.story)? And for those of you Simpsons fans out there, the answer is, No. I am not talking about Ned Flanders’ sons.

I’m sure Dorothy Brown, Danny Davis and Toni Preckwinkle all see no reason why they should be the one (http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/Content.aspx?audioID=36683) to step aside to try to save Todd Stroger’s political hide.