Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cook County judge takes an intriguing approach to criticizing abortion restriction

Republicans back in 1995 used their partisan dominance (the GOP once controlled everything, believe it or not) to ram a lot of bills based on socially conservative concepts through the General Assembly and then-Gov. Jim Edgar – one of which was a measure meant to require girls under 18 who get pregnant to inform a parent if they wish to abort the pregnancy.

It was meant to be a way of conservatives getting around the fact that the courts had rejected the idea that a parent could refuse to let their teenage daughters end a pregnancy. Because technically, the parents merely have to be told of the abortion decision 48 hours or more before it happens.

THEORETICALLY, THEY CAN’T stop it. The reality of the situation, however, is that most parents in that situation will use whatever means possible to thwart their daughters’ preferences. For all practical purposes, it amounts to parental consent.

Now many of those conservative bills wound up getting struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The heavy-handed tactics of the Legislature back in that 1995-96 era of GOP Dominance really were grotesque to watch. Democrats in recent years haven’t pulled anything anywhere near as bad – although that is largely because Democrats can’t play nice and agree with each other on much of anything.

This abortion-related law is different. It remains on the books, but has never been enforced.

For the American Civil Liberties Union has managed to file legal actions that have kept it from being enforced, even though a Cook County judge this week tossed the lawsuit out of court.

NOT THAT THIS means we’re on the verge of having this law enforced. Judge Daniel Riley is keeping in place a stay that prevents its enforcement – on the grounds that he knows his ruling on Monday is going to be the subject of more legal battles in the Illinois Appellate Court.

Riley wound up giving support to both sides of the abortion issue.

For while he said he thought the ACLU lawsuit was legally flawed and does not deserve to continue in the court system, he also thinks the law is flawed.

During a brief court hearing, Riley said the law (if ever enforced) has the potential to cause “more harm than good.”

THE CHICAGO SUN-Times reported that Riley said the law from the Republican era of dominance discriminates against pregnant teenage girls because it only requires parental notification in the event that she considers abortion.

Keeping the pregnancy to either raise on her own or give up for adoption would, theoretically, allow a girl to go through her entire nine-month term without ever telling her parents a thing.

Which may be an impractical concept. But it is no more ridiculous than the idea that a girl would be able to tell her parents about abortion, then proceed as though they would not try to pressure her to behave in a certain way.

Now I understand what motivates the anti-abortion crowd to push for such laws.

ON A CERTAIN level, they realize that the concept of a woman being able to end a pregnancy if she wishes has become the law and that any chance of changing that is going to take a political revolution that would let them stack the Supreme Court of the United States and all the lower courts with judges who would play blatant political games with “the law.”

But by pushing for restrictions on abortion under so many different circumstances, they can make it a medical procedure so difficult to obtain that it might as well not be legal at all.

The only people who get hurt under these circumstances are the women themselves, who are actual living beings carrying the potential for a life inside them. That is my bottom line when it comes to the abortion issue – I favor the life that actually exists over the potential for a new life.

Some people will argue that with a minor, she ought to face some additional restrictions and her parents ought to have some say over her decisions. EXCEPT that when it comes to many teenage pregnancies, the conditions the girls are in usually are far from ideal.

THERE ARE TIMES we’re not talking about the ideal family environment to begin with. I can see cases where a girl being forced to get her parents involved with a pregnancy decision could exacerbate her problems.

That is why I can see why there are times when a teenage girl needs to have legal ways to deal with this situation. It is why I can see that the conservative stance of wanting to restrict her access to a legal medical procedure is about as immoral as a person could get.

Not that I expect anybody is going to be swayed by anything I have written here. This is an issue where people’s stances are carved in marble. The Republicans etched their view for all of us to see when they used their political influence of the past to ram this piece of ideology down all of our throats.

It likely will be many more years before we learn which side of Riley’s ruling will prevail.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now that it’s over, political gamesmanship over health care reform can truly begin

Call it the perfect gift for that conservative “friend” you may have whom you feel like “rubbing in” the agony of their defeat when it comes to health care reform.

President Barack Obama’s campaign structure (now called Organizing for America) is offering people a chance to get a certificate that identifies them as “co-signers” of the health care reform package that he signed into law last week.

I RECEIVED AN e-mail from the Obama types telling me how I can get my name included on a “permanent archive” listing me as a supporter of this monumental legislation, which they humbly refer to merely as a, “great achievement.”

All I have to do is e-mail back their form with my name and zip code, so I can receive my certificate – which strikes me as being less interesting a momento of the Obama Administration than owning an authentic can of Billy Beer would be for the Jimmy Carter years.

Does this become the ultimate prank gift? Arrange for all the Tea Party people you know to get such a certificate, knowing full well that the very sight of their name being connected to this new law will drive them into such a rage?

Then again, the Tea Party types have enough to be angry about without our help. And they’re going to be sure to share their displeasure with the masses, figuring that the rest of us don’t have a right to be happy unless they are first and foremost.

IF IT READS like I believe the Tea Party types are all mouth (and an occasional rock thrown through a window), you’d be correct. Because there are times when I think former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hit upon their essential character when she told a recent gathering of such conservatives that they should “not sit down and shut up” with regards to their complaints – which basically amount to their displeasure that health care reform would benefit people in our society whom they would prefer to ignore.

They are a loud mouth – one that will have an influence on those people who are easily impressionable or unknowing about the issue.

The Gallup Organization came out with a new survey Monday showing that 50 percent of the public thinks that the passage of the health care reform measure is a “bad thing,” compared to 47 percent who think it a “good thing.”

Of course, last week the Gallup people gave us a survey showing Obama’s favorable rating shooting up from 46 percent to 51 percent in the couple of days after health care passed the House of Representatives. It’s now down to 48 percent favorable, with 46 percent viewing the president unfavorably.

BASICALLY, THE COUNTRY is split on this issue just like it is on many other issues (although the part of this survey that amazes me is the 3 percent of the public that has “no opinion,” despite all the blowhards from both sides who have tried to infect the American public with their views.

But the Tea Party types want us to think that Everybody Hates Obama (just like that humorous, but now-defunct television program, “Everybody Hates Chris”) and that those of us who are willing to look rationally at the health care issue are isolating ourselves.

Likewise, Obama is trying to make this issue out to be that truly monumental event in U.S. history (although I wonder if the truly signficant health care reform measure is the one that a future president pushes for to advance the direction in which Obama has nudged us slightly).

Our very own authetic certificate to document that “we were there” in support of heatlh care reform when it happened. It makes me laugh almost as much as the overblown rhetoric of the Tea Party types.

THE BOTTOM LINE, as I have always seen it, is that the “47 million” statistic (as in the number of people who do not have access to adequate health care because they have no insurance to cover the medical bills) is one that has become so high that it will be a factor that drags down our society.

It is in our self-interest to reduce the number of uninsured, although I realize there is no way to drop it all the way to zero. There will always be a certain percentage of people who will be uninsured. And immigration reform ties into this because some people are only unable to obtain insurance because of their citizenship status.

Fix that problem, and that could drop the ranks of uninsured by about 15 million people.

It is also because of the national scope of the issue that I think one-time Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is wrong that this is an issue for state governments, and not the federal, to resolve. Do we really want our society to become a patchwork of programs by which some people get dumped on because of where they happen to live?

KEEP IN MIND, however, that there is a reason that people like Romney and Palin are speaking out on this issue – both of them have political aspirations for the 2012 presidential election. They need to keep their personas in the public eye.

So they’re going to engage in trash talk that will get the Tea Party types all worked up at the expense of a civil discourse, in hopes that it translates into votes nearly three full years from now. Perhaps what we need more than a certificate of approval from Obama is a giant bottle of aspirin – to cope with the collective headache that we rational people will suffer from in coming years due to political opportunists like Palin.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Get your very own certificate of approval from Barack Obama for being willing to support (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/hccosignSU?source=20100329_MS_Kick) the president on health care reform.

Last week, we marginally liked health care reform. This year, we marginally dislike it. Does this mean we’re (http://www.gallup.com/poll/127025/One-Week-Later-Americans-Divided-Healthcare.aspx) closely split on the issue – to the displeasure of the hard-core partisans.

I’m one of those people who usually finds that the great issues of our society are better addressed by Congress (http://www.freedomproject.us/post-exchange/Article-Mitt_Romney_speaks_on_American_exceptionalism.aspx) and the federal government, rather than the 50 state legislatures spread across the United States.

Monday, March 29, 2010

It seems like such a waste of time that our pols still want to bash Blagojevich

He has been gone from the political scene for more than a year (even though some people probably think that being a part of the reality television scene is more prestigious than being a lowly hack politician).

But don’t think for one moment that anyone in the Legislature that so eagerly voted to impeach, then convict, Rod Blagojevich has in any way had their feelings muted by the passage of time.

THE FORMER GOVERNOR’S name took two hits in the General Assembly in the past two days, which makes me sad. Not that I care about the public persona of Milorod.

But it just seems to me that at a time when our state faces financial problems of historic proportions, problems that threaten to impact the schools and local governments that rely on their state funding to provide needed services for the public, we have geeky legislators who are more interested in taking pot shots at Blagojevich.

What a waste of time, energy and brainpower!

That is what I honestly think of the fact that some members of the Illinois House of Representatives last week not only said it wanted to do a financial audit of the “Blagojevich era,” they also want to deny Rod his official portrait at the Statehouse in Springpatch.

NOW THEY’RE NOT actually capable of saying he can’t have his oil painting portrait hung at the capitol in the hallway along with all the other men who have served as governor of Illinois. Nor is it all the legislators who are looking for excuses to hang the current financial problems on Blagojevich.

It’s just the Republicans, who really want this audit to root up some questionable “facts” that can be twisted in such a way by the political campaigns of Republican candidates to try to label all Democratic opponents “guilty” by association with Milorod’s political party.

Which is why I think it is audits like this that are the true waste of money. Politically partisan people want the Legislature to conduct studies on the state’s dime that they can claim give their political attacks later this year a certain air of legitimacy.

Of course, it is a crock. They ought to just go ahead and pay for their own opposition research. At least that would be admitting that any such facts claiming that Blagojevich did something that added to the waste of taxpayer dollars was nothing more than a political hit.

IN SHORT, I don’t want my tax dollars being used to give bonafides to the GOP campaigns. That strikes me as being more wasteful than anything nasty or stupid that might be dug up about Blagojevich.

Which is why I wish Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, (who under different circumstances is an earnest public official) had not dignified this call for an audit that was made originally by Adam Andrzejewski.

For those of you who were paying attention, he was the Republican gubernatorial hopeful who took about 14 percent of the vote in the February primary election. Instead of withering away for four years like most fringe political candidates do, he’s trying to keep his name in the public eye.

Which means that by writing about this issue, I am guilty of giving him exactly what he wants – attention for whatever office he decides to be a fringe candidate for in the future. I guess getting the endorsement of Lech Walesa wasn’t a big enough boost for his ego. He wants more.

WHICH, WHEN YOU think about it, was Blagojevich’s biggest political sin. He enjoyed the public spotlight associated with being governor, and often based his actions on the premise that nobody ought to have the ability to stand up to him or be considered his equal.

Not even those people associated with his own political party. That ultimately is why Democrats were so eager to lead the fight for impeachment, and are probably more overjoyed than their Republican colleagues to see him gone.

Which is why political people are so eager to vote against the official Blagojevich portrait. Specifically, they approved a measure saying that political people in Blagojevich’s circumstances cannot have the cost of creating the portrait reimbursed with state funds.,

That means if Blagojevich wants his portrait to hang at the Capitol, he’s going to have to pay for it himself – or come up with a fundraising committee or some private donor to pay for the cost.

AS FAR AS I am concerned, the fact is that Blagojevich was elected to two terms as governor. His portrait belongs there. Any political person who voted for this measure so they could keep him out is being ridiculous. Nobody ever said that every single politician ever immortalized in oil on canvass or in marble was a noble human being.

I want for the day to come when a Blagojevich portrait is unveiled. I can easily envision the snubs Milorod would have to endure from people who would refuse to show up for the ceremony, and also the tense feelings from those who felt they had to be there.

If anything, the fact that nobody loves him anymore within state government would probably be the biggest blow to Blagojevich’s ego. That would hurt him more than anything else.

Besides, the memory of the Blagojevich hair deserves to be preserved for all eternity.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

There is just no pleasing people when the topic is the Dems Lt. Gov. nomination

We’re going to learn Saturday whether or not Gov. Pat Quinn was successful in strong-arming his colleagues within the Democratic Party of Illinois into giving him his way when it comes to a lieutenant governor running mate.

For Quinn on Friday publicly said he wants Sheila Simon, the Southern Illinois University law school professor who is the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon – who himself was a former Illinois lieutenant governor – to be his running mate.

QUINN MADE HIS pick public even though technically, the decision is not up to him. It is up to the Democratic State Central Committee – those 38 insiders from across the state who will meet in Springfield to decide.

Will Democrats, led by their party chairman Michael J. Madigan, decide to stick it up the wazoo of their party’s gubernatorial nominee by giving him someone other than his choice? Or will they concede that there is a certain logic to a governor having a rapport with his running mate – who theoretically is his successor should the Mighty Quinn, die, become permanently impaired, get impeached, etc.

I’m not about to predict what is going to happen, other than to say it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Democratic Party manages to stir up furious anger, no matter what it decides. Are these two women from prime Illinois political families destined to be part of the Democratic Party's team of candidates for the 2010 election? Photograph provided by Illinois attorney general's office.

Because this is going to be a decision that will tick people off, no matter what is done. What it ultimately comes down to iis a question of who do the Democrats mind offending the least.

WHICH IS WHY I am disregarding all the political punditry that focuses on how it is a mistake if ______ does not get the post. Fill in the blank with any name, and there is someone who will be bugged by it.

We’re hearing rhetoric already saying that Quinn’s choice of Simon is a mistake because there are some black voter blocks that prefer the thought of state Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, a long-time legislator from the heavily African-American neighborhoods of the city’s West Side.

Supposedly, Quinn is going to tick off the black voters of Chicago in ways that will hurt the candidacies of all Democrats choosing to run for elective office in 2010.

But if Quinn were to decide to go with Turner, then we’d be hearing from the people who say that his presence would be the force that would hurt the candidacies of all Democrats choosing to run for elective office in 2010.

SUPPOSEDLY, NOBODY WANTS a Democratic slate where four of the six candidates are black people – although I’m inclined to think that the people who would be turned off by such a sight are the ones who would NEVER vote for a Democrat for any office, no matter what the circumstances.

Excuse me for thinking that some people are going to find fault with anyone who gets named. And if Democrats were to make a symbolic gesture showing the post to be pointless by leaving the slot blank, that would tick some people off to.

My bottom line is that Democratic Party officials have to think in terms of the broadest good, and not get too absorbed with the people who want to complain.

Insofar as Simon herself is concerned, she is a somewhat interesting pick because (if selected) we would get a Democratic ticket containing the daughters of two of Illinois’ biggest-name Democratic officials of recent years.

WHILE ILLINOIS ATTORNEY General Lisa Madigan gets some grief from people who have their grudges against her father (mostly people who would never have the nerve to take their complaints directly to Mike Madigan, they try to take it out on Lisa), Quinn in part is hoping that the presence of Paul Simon’s daughter reflects positively upon all the candidates. Although, if I remember correctly, Lisa’s first spot on a political staff was working for Simon as one of his interns when she was a student at Georgetown University.

For her part, Sheila has one term served on the city council in Carbondale – although we’re going to hear a lot in coming months about how she lost her bid to become mayor and is nothing more than a law school professor at the definitely un-elite Southern Illinois University School of Law.

But she still has the name “Simon,” whom some of us remember from his own idealistic presidential bid of 1988. If we want to get ahead of ourselves, we could be setting the stage for a future political fight between Madigan and Simon (the daughters, not the dads) to see who becomes the most powerful Democrat in Illinois.

But back to the present.

I’D LIKE TO say it would be nice for Democrats to want to honor the wishes of their gubernatorial nominee – who seems determined to have someone of the female gender in line to succeed him – IF circumstances ever warrant it.

But then I realize that Illinois has never placed any significance on that concept.

Consider that when Simon’s father served his one term as lieutenant governor, he wound up being the running mate to Gov. Dick Ogilvie – a Republican. It was the only time that Illinois voters got schizophrenic enough to pick political people of dueling parties for the top two slots.

The fact that Ogilvie froze Simon completely out of his operations (not at all a surprise) was what caused the law to be changed so that candidates ran together in the general election. Although in tribute to our traditions, our state officials refuse to make changes that would have candidates run as a pair during the primary.

I CAN ALSO think of one other group that will be complaining after the choice is made – the Illinois Republican Party.

While Democrats have a chance to put together a pairing that could work as a team, the GOP is stuck with the pairing created by its primary voters. Bill Brady of Bloomington with Jason Plummer of Edwardsville is the ticket that might as well be non-existent north of Interstate 80.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I first encountered Sheila Simon about 26 years ago when I was in college and she was campaigning for her father’s bid for the U.S. Senate, but never had a clue until Friday that she was musically (http://www.myspace.com/loosegravelgirls) inclined. Does this mean we could get a showdown between Simon’s banjo and Illinois comptroller nominee Judy Baar Topinka’s accordion?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lipinski vote isn’t that shocking. It just means he’s ‘representing’ his district

It seems that Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., is part of an “exclusive” group – he is one of five members of Congress who last year voted in support of health care reform, only to turn on it and vote “no” on the measure that came up for a vote on Sunday.

The self-absorbed website Politico has union types talking about how they’re going to make all five of these politicians pay come future election days, talking about how they will have to make significant gestures of reconciliation if they ever want organized labor support again.

IN THE CASE of Lipinski, he is described as “hailing from (a) Democratic, big-city district,” implying there is no “logic” to his opposition to the president.

But anybody who truly knows anything about Chicago-area political conditions should not be surprised that Lipinski would be the one Chicago-area Democrat who would not go along with the desires of the man from Hyde Park who presides in the White House.

The reality is that Lipinski comes from a congressional district representing the outer part (think the area around Midway Airport) of the city’s Southwest Side, along with its surrounding suburbs.

We’re talking a part of the city populated by people who are there because, in many ways, they want to be isolated from what they perceive as the decay of the bulk of Chicago. It is a part of Chicago with a mindset that is more than willing to be different from the urban mainstream.

IT IS AN area more ideologically conservative on those social issues, and is a place where the locals are Democrats largely because their jobs require them to have membership in labor unions. It is not a place where people who come in talking about gay rights or abortion are going to gain any traction.

So when I heard Lipinski say that his reason for opposing the president on health care reform was that he wanted to make a firm statement in opposition to abortion, and that the fact that Obama signed an Executive Order into force on Wednesday to ensure that federal funds cannot be used for anything that even remotely promotes abortion (not even as part of health care) wasn’t strong enough for him, all I can say is that I believe him.

For Lipinski has always been one of those politicians who cites his Catholicism when it comes to the abortion issue.

That kind of attitude plays well in his congressional district. It is also why I believe Lipinski when he says he doesn’t fear political retribution for opposing health care, or Obama in general.

POLITICO, IN ITS recent story about the five “vote-switchers,” went so far as to say that Dan Lipinski cast his vote the way he did because his father told him to.

His father, of course, is retired Rep. Bill Lipinski, who engineered his retirement a few years ago in such a way that Dan didn’t have to face a serious political fight to succeed him.

The elder Lipinski was known for showing the same opposition to the Democratic Party platform when it came to abortion, and Politico reported that Bill merely thought it would be good politics to vote “no” on health care reform.

In short, Dan Lipinski figures he already gets enough grief from those people who are still bitter over the fact that his father was able to hand over a political post to him. The last thing he wants to deal with are the Tea Party types sending him harassing telephone calls, telling the diabetic member of Congress to “drop dead.”

THINK I’M EXAGGERATING? Some members of Congress who voted “yes” for health care have been receiving threats or acts of vandalism at their home district offices. Some of these incidents have gone so far that the FBI is officially investigating them.

I’m not saying that people of the Southwest Side condone such behavior. But I can see where Dan Lipinski would take father Bill’s advice and decide that a little bit of distance this year between himself and Barack Obama could have a payoff come the elections of Nov. 2.

Which is why I don’t think Lipinski will suffer serious retribution, other than the fact that he likely will never move up into the Democratic Party’s higher ranks of leadership – which isn’t something I believe Lipinski ever aspired to.

For I suspect that for Lipinski to join the ranks of nationally prominent Democrats, he’d have to change so much about himself that he would run the risk of offending enough of his congressional constituents that they’d seriously consider replacing him with someone more like themselves.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: This is far from the first time that Dan Lipinski has disagreed with his Democratic Party (http://www.ontheissues.org/il/dan_lipinski.htm) colleagues on an issue. Not that I think Lipinski is living in fear of the threat of a political independent running (http://www.texasinsider.org/?p=24369) against him on an issue.

Tea Party officials aren’t claiming responsibility for some of the vicious actions being directed against (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2011432285_healthreat25.html) members of Congress who supported Barack Obama on health care reform. Those acts have included bricks through office windows and cut gas lines.

Much adieu about nothing?

Did state Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, seriously slur the perception of all Latinos when she made a half-wit comment during legislative debate this week in Springfield implying that we all sell tacos?

Or is this just a ridiculous excuse for some people to get all worked up? This weblog's sister site, The South Chicagoan (http://southchicagoan.blogspot.com/) has more to offer on this "issue."

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

If Pat Quinn is trying to scare us into liking a tax hike, he picked the right area

Illinois government is facing particularly harsh times. The size of spending cuts that government will have to make is going to be large, and it is going to impact areas that political people usually would not even fantasize about touching.

Which is how I view the talk coming out of Springfield these days about layoffs of Illinois State Police troopers at such high levels that five of the 22 offices around the state will be shut down. Some officers will be reassigned to new areas, and existing state police districts will wind up encompassing larger areas.

WHETHER ONE WANTS to acknowledge this or not, it will have an impact on Chicago. This isn’t just a matter of rural towns with dinky local police departments that have to rely on the state police whenever they need advanced levels of law enforcement.

For one of the five offices that Illinois State Police officials say will be closed will be the one in suburban Des Plaines.

It is out of that office that the patrols maintained by state police over the North Side’s expressways are based. The South Side expressway patrols are based out of the state police office in Crestwood – which is slated to remain open.

But it is now going to have to cover a larger area, and most likely with fewer officers.

NOTICE I ZEROED in on the expressways. For that is the most common area in which Chicagoans encounter the Illinois State Police.

For the past 25 years, the state police have been in charge of chasing down speeders and drunken drivers and other misfits who happen to commit their acts while driving on the Kennedy or the Dan Ryan or the Eisenhower (Chicago’s lone GOP-named expressway).

But with five fewer offices and about 460 fewer officers (all as part of an effort to bring the state’s budget under control at a time when the national economic struggles are hitting Illinois particularly harsh), that has the state police thinking it is time for them to abandon patrols of the expressways.

They’d like to see things go back to the way they used to be – which means the Chicago Police Department having to maintain patrols of the expressway portions within the city limits, and all those individual suburban police departments that have an expressway passing through their boundaries having to take control of their portions of the roads.

IF IT READS like I’m implying such a mishmash of jurisdictions has the potential to create disaster, you would be correct.

It has always made so much sense to me that one law enforcement agency have jurisdiction over the stretch of the expressways that are meant to connect the various muncipalities of the Chicago area into one metropolitan area.

Having to keep track of the exact point on the Dan Ryan that someone does something considered illegal, then figuring out which police department gets to have responsibility/credit for the arrest is an invitation for too manyt cases to slip through the cracks.

What I suspect would really happen is that most suburban law enforcement agencies would merely give up on even trying to patrol the expressways within their town. Chicago might put a few officers to work driving along the 53 miles worth of interstates back and forth across the city during their shifts. But I would envision those patrols being so few that the odds of a speeding or impaired driver being able to go undetected on the expressways would be significant.

THERE IS ALSO the fact that those law enforcement agencies have enough of their own problems to address. They probably wish they could dump off some of their existing responsibilities on state police, instead of having to take on more duties.

Which is why Mayor Richard M. Daley is hoping he can persuade Gov. Pat Quinn to uphold the agreement that was negotiated back in the mid-1980s when Chicago turned over jurisdiction of its portion of the expressways to the state police.

He told reporter-types that the Chicago Police Department just can’t spare the number of officers needed to replace the 182 state troopers assigned to the soon-to-be shuttered Des Plaines district.

I would guess that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart would scream something similar if anyone suggested that his officers ought to take over the expressway patrol (one way to get around that potential jurisdictional nightmare I alluded to earlier).

AT LEAST NOBODY is trying to claim that these cutbacks are somehow going to create an improved law enforcement picture for the Chicago area. Even state police Director Jonathen Monken admits these cuts will turn the state police into an agency that responds to emergencies, rather than tries to do things that are proactive.

We’re going to be hit with a legalistic mess, of which the only people who will see something positive are those crackpots who probably wish that police could be abolished and we could revert to a system where they’re allowed to shoot anybody who strays onto their property whose look they don’t like.

Think I’m kidding?

Some pundits already are wondering if these police cutbacks can somehow be used to bolster political support for the “concealed carry” measures that the gun lobby has sought for years. That thought may be even more scary than the thought of driving on the expressways with fewer police patrols.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: More Chicago cops (http://www.suntimes.com/news/cityhall/2120968,chicago-state-police-cutback-daley-032410.article) on the Kennedy or Stevenson? Or is it more likely that we won’t get any cops on the expressways (http://www.sj-r.com/news/x99764408/State-Police-plan-massive-trooper-layoffs-to-close-five-districts), except when a fatal auto accident occurs?

People already are trying to score political points (http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2010/03/slash-state-patrol-maybe-if-the-ilga-passes-right-to-carry.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+typepad%2Fdlacomb%2Fillinoisreview+%28illinoisreview%29) off of the state police budget cuts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Illinois’ regional differences crop up once again in bill offering four-day school week

I can remember a moment more than a decade ago when the Illinois House of Representatives was considering a bill that would make it state law that people could not ride in the backs of pickup trucks unless those trucks were equipped with seat belts and everybody was strapped in.

Who ever heard of a pickup truck with seat belts in the back? Not me. Not anybody.

I CAN RECALL one rural Illinois legislator being particularly critical of the measure on the grounds that this bill (which was sponsored by a Democratic legislator from the North Side) was a case of a Chicago person trying to put a city-way of viewing an issue into the minds of all Illinoisans.

Because it was just the way things were done that people would pile up in the back of a pickup truck for a ride.

That bill went down to defeat, becoming one of those moments when the Legislature quit being Democrat versus Republican and became urban versus rural – with suburban people using the rare moment to “stick it” to the city.

Now what made me remember this incident, that I believe took place in 1997?

IT WAS UPON learning that the Illinois House on Monday gave an overwhelming vote of support (81-21, to be exact) for a bill that would allow public school districts in Illinois the option of converting their schedules to four-day weeks.

In short, students would go to school for four days, and have the other three off.

Such a concept is in place in 19 other states, and tends to be used by school districts in those states that cover rural communities – particularly districts that cover many miles of territory (instead of the typical suburban school district that usually covers a town and part of another) and has many students who have to be bused in from isolated areas.

This is a rural concept that a political person wants to impose on Illinois (although I would hope the Chicago Public Schools would have the sense to realize how ridiculous it is). That political person is state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, who during his decades in the Legislature has developed not only a reputation for being blunt-spoken, he also was the lawmaker who spoke out all those years ago on the absurdity of trying to impose an “urban” idea on the rest of the state.

COULD IT BE that some people don’t appreciate the irony of Black criticizing one region’s officials for trying to look out for public safety with ideas that were totally comprehendible to anybody in Chicago, but is willing to impose his “region’s” ideas on the rest of the state?

Now the one difference is that it would be the local school boards that would decide whether they want to bother with the idea of a four-day school week.

The Chicago Teachers Union already is making it clear they don’t approve, and there also are the complaints from some parents who rely on the fact that their kids are in school Monday thorugh Friday to account for their presence and activity while the parents are at work.

So I don’t expect to see Chicago Public Schools students getting a three-day weekend any time soon.

I WOULD EXPECT a lot of the suburban districts whose officials already are concerned that their students don’t spend enough time in the classroom would not be quick to endorse the idea either.

So perhaps this really is a concept that would be taken seriously only by those school districts in isolated parts of central and Southern Illinois, where Black told reporter-types that some officials have approached him saying that a four-day school week would help them save money at a time when school districts are likely to have their state aid payments hacked to pieces.

Specifically, they say the cost of transportation is running high, since those rural districts can be spread out over large areas, and all school districts these days are having to pay more to the companies that operate school bus routes because the companies are charging the districts more money to cover the rising costs of fuel for the buses.

Yes, that is one factor. But I question how much the overall savings really could be, since you would now have to have longer school days. Which means teachers working more hours per day. Which I’m sure means the potential for them to pick up more money if such labor is expected.

THERE IS ALSO the fact that I don’t like the idea of making more widespread the differences in public schools based on where they are. It undermines the concept even further that a student at a public school – regardless of which school he/she attends – ought to be capable of having equal opportunity of obtaining a basic education.

I’m skeptical that having three-day weekends all the time would not negatively impact the ability of students to retain what they have learned. Those rural school districts, particularly when one gets into Southern Illinois, are some of the worst funded in the state. They make the Chicago Public Schools look like a financial paradise, by comparison.

I’d hate to have to think we’re going to have to start looking down on anyone educated in a rural public school in Illinois because they imposed this measure to save themselves the cost of some gasoline for the school buses.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Illinois Senate could still kill off the concept (http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/2117024,house-bill-four-day-school-week-032210.article) of a four-day school week in Illinois.

What does it say about me (http://nwitimes.com/news/local/illinois/article_63741a97-2b44-5303-945c-547facf94529.html) that I'm in agreement with Rich Daley on an issue?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Temper, temper!

It has been more than 24 hours since the words “baby killer” were faintly heard in the background on television screens across the nation – and CNN lept with a vengance on trying to crack down on figuring out which member of our Congress spewed the epithet.

You’d think CNN was up for a Peabody by being the first to figure out who would use such a crude term toward Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. – an anti-abortion member of the Democratic caucus who apparently did not hew strictly enough to the party line for those people who seriously see a criminal act when a woman chooses to end a pregnancy.

BUT NOW IN the light of a day later, when calmer heads can prevail, we now know that Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, was the Congressman who let the slur slip through his lips.

Neugebauer went so far as to issue an apology to Stupak, claiming that he was outraged about the health care reform measure that Tuesday will become law and how he thinks it will impact attempts to restrict access to abortion.

He says he was talking about the bill, not the man, when he uttered, “it’s a baby killer.”

It sounds like a stretch to me, but I’m willing to let the issue wither away – even though I know there are many people who will not. Neugebauer and Rep. Addison G. “Joe” Wilson, R-S.C., have the potential to be forevermore remembered for a moment where their tempers got the best of them.

“YOU LIE!” AND “Baby-killer!” What a legacy. I’m not going to claim that all Republicans are this nit-witted. But it does bother me that the modern-day GOP is a party that caters all too much to people who are this nit-witted.

On a more humorous note, Neugebauer has the potential to be the best-known person to come from the Lubbock, Texas-area since Buddy Holly and the rest of the Crickets.

Admittedly, I’m trying to make light of this whole situation. Because if I think about it too much, I become depressed (and because I’m suffering from an illness that has left my throat raw, I can’t exactly climb to the rooftop and shout out my disapproval).

What made the final days of the 13-month-long political process to take a bill on health care reform and turn it into something that President Barack Obama will sign into law was the way it got entangled with abortion.

FOR THE POLITICAL people who seriously want to limit abortion access (and dream of a day when the Supreme Court claims its previous incarnations were wrong in ever claiming that abortion is something that ought to be legal) were more than willing to interfere with something that would make health care more readily available to nearly all – in order to back up their belief that a medical procedure such as ending a pregnancy should be restricted as much as possible.

Some of the more conservative Democrats, including Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., could not be swayed. They were among the few Dems who opposed Obama on this and sided with the Republican minority in the House of Representatives.

But others, such as Stupak, were swayed by promises from Obama that he would sign a separate executive order that would guarantee the federal government would continue to spend no money in ways that would help lower-income women who rely on such help for medical expenses to abort a pregnancy.

That was actually more than what Obama promised the Latino caucus of Congress and other proponents of immigration reform. He merely told them their issue will be considered this year – with nothing in writing or specifically promised as to what was meant by “considered.”

THERE DEFINITELY IS no promise the issue will be approved, but the Democrats who have a problem with the party’s platform because it says access to abortion for women is something the party will fight for are going to get an Executive Order.

That is what caused Stupak to agree to the procedural moves that were required for the health care reform bill as a whole to advance. It also was the act that was determined to be procedurally weak enough that now the anti-abortion types are going to claim that Stupak sold them out.

Seriously, I don’t get it.

Stupak and his allies on this issue forced the president to make a concession that will result in an Executive Order that the bulk of Democrats and Obama’s supporters will find offensive. Let’s be honest. There are some Democrats who would have been totally happy if Obama had told Stupak to stuff it, even if it meant the whole of health care reform would have collapsed.

YOU’D THINK THAT the anti-abortion types would be celebrating Stupak and his allies for getting this big of a concession imposed on what Obama will want to think of as the major initiative of his presidency.

Except that he has that dreaded “D” after his name, which means the knee-jerk reaction kicks in and they feel the need to kick him about. Which is what triggered Neugebauer’s loss of his temper and his moment that he will spend the rest of his political life living down.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: He’s sorry. He’s very (http://randy.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=20§iontree=5,20&itemid=824) very sorry. Bart Stupak, meanwhile, is boasting for now (http://www.house.gov/list/speech/mi01_stupak/morenews/20100321healthcare.html) of his vote in favor of heatlh care reform.

It’s a good thing for Dan Lipinski that he doesn’t aspire to become of the political heavyweights on Capitol Hill. Because (http://www.lipinski.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1123:congressman-lipinski-votes-no-on-senate-health-care-bill&catid=46:2010-press-releases&Itemid=44) his vote against health care reform ensures his “back-bencher” status in the ranks of the House of Representatives.

Monday, March 22, 2010

We’re down to 17 for Lt. Gov.

If Gov. Pat Quinn persists with his apparent desire to have a woman as his running mate, he now has 5 names to pick from.

If he were to want someone with experience in the General Assembly, he has 5 more names to choose from. If that’s not the proper political experience, there’s also a former suburban mayor and a former council member who is the daughter of a longtime popular Illinois politico.

WANT TO PUT an ethnic tone on the Democratic ticket for statewide offices? There are potential candidates of Greek, Indian and Puerto Rican backgrounds.

And if you are one of those people who would prefer to have a complete nobody (insofar as past political experience) run for the position of “governor-in-waiting,” there are 8 such people to pick from.

All of this means that the Democrats will have a wide selection of people to choose from when they meet again Saturday in Springfield at the definitely unglamorous The Inn hotel to pick the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor.

For the party held its sessions across the state to weed through the hundreds of applications submitted to the Democratic State Central Committee to be considered for the post as Quinn’s running mate. They weeded those names down to 5 Chicago residents, 8 from the suburbs and 4 from the rest of Illinois.

LOOKING AT THE list, I can’t help but think that the man whose name is at the bottom – state Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, the list is alphabetical – is the front-runner. There are those party officials who think the fact that Turner finished second in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor ought to give him some consideration.

But the list includes enough other names to appease – for the week, at least – those people who want to use this as an opportunity to fill the slot in a way that bolsters the chances of the entire Democratic ticket achieving some success come Nov. 2.

Reading the various reports that came out of the six sites where candidates were interviewed gave me the impression that Democratic Party officials desperately want to create the impression that everybody is being considered – even though the reality is that at least a few party officials already know who they want and are trying to figure out how to rig the process to get what they want.

So I think the interesting part of this list is the 8 people with no prior political experience or ties. Democrats managed to pick some names that they think (or perhaps, desperately hope) will not come back to embarrass them.

IT WOULD BE bad for the party’s process if one of their no-names turned out to have something garish in his/her background.

So who is on the list?

Two of the lieutenant governor primary candidates – Turner and state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, are both still in the running, as is Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Peoria native of Indian background who came very close to winning the nomination for Illinois comptroller.

The two women who supposedly are Quinn’s preferences – state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, and former Carbondale council woman Sheila Simon (will she incorporate the image of her father’s bow tie in any campaign she runs?) – also remain on the list.

COULD THAT BE the concession to Quinn to make it seem like his opinion is being taken into consideration by the party leadership, who in reality will pick the candidate who best suits their interests.

Another potential candidate is state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, who made the list to become the only Latino candidate.

Not that I expect such a factor to help her much. Martinez was the first Latina to gain a position within the General Assembly’s leadership under former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, and she is a member of the State Central Committee that will make the final pick.

But before anyone thinks there’s going to be some sort of uniting of Latinos, one needs to keep in mind the factors that often splinter the Latino vote – which cause some males to think she’s too mouthy and pushy (and causes her to say in response that they’re too easily intimidated).

THAT SPLIT IS probably why we don’t have more Latinos in positions of authority in Illinois.

So what should we think of the list, now that we have a full week to ponder the names included and try to figure out what the thought process of the Democratic Party truly is?

It was nice to see that the person I voted for in the primary (Boland) and the person whom I’m now inclined to think would be the best choice (Krishnamoorthi) both made it – although I’m wondering if that is merely an attempt by the party to make people who think like I do believe that our thoughts are being taken into account.

For as I look at it, I can’t help but think that this whole process was nothing more than a formality before the party leaders give us the ticket of Quinn/Turner. We’ll get to see on Saturday how correct I am.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: There might not have been cigar smoke, but Democratic Party officials recreated the spirit (http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x673429652/Democrats-hold-auditions-for-lieutenant-governor) of the old slating sessions (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2010/03/eclectic-group-auditions-for-democratic-lieutenant-governor-nomination.html) that used to decide who got to run for elective office.

Is this the voice (http://nwitimes.com/news/foreign-language/article_4e2e64ca-17fa-5043-8357-bc7029f9b113.html) of a future lieutenant governor?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Would a woman help Quinn that much?

So Pat Quinn wants a woman. For lieutenant governor, that is.

Members of the Democratic Party’s state central committee plan to spend this weekend interviewing the minions who bothered to submit applications for the party’s nomination for the political post, and have hinted they may make a choice by next weekend.

MEANWHILE, THE GOVERNOR himself has tossed out a few hints about who he would like to have as a running mate – even though technically, he has no say in the process. Although the party’s leadership would be wise if they took Quinn’s thoughts into account.

What are those thoughts?

Now some of this is merely reporting on what has been rumored among political people. But the three names I have read that supposedly are people that Quinn would like to have as the state’s “just in case” governor are Tammy Duckworth, Sheila Simon and, now, Susan Garrett.

Duckworth is the one-time military hero who publicly turned down Quinn’s speculation so she could focus on her job with the Department of Military Affairs, while Simon and Garrett – theoretically – would feel “honored” to serve, if called upon.

THE POINT SEEMS to be that if Quinn gets a say in the matter (that is, if Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, lets him speak), Illinois would have its first chance at a female for lieutenant governor since 1998 – which was the year that both major parties nominated women to run for the number two post.

Remember Corinne Wood versus Mary Lou Kearns, the Kane County coroner who narrowly defeated Quinn himself in that year’s Democratic primary?

I’m sure Quinn would try to portray himself as pursuing a noble goal – placing more women on the statewide ticket. Currently, there are two – Lisa Madigan for attorney general and Robin Kelly for treasurer.

But the fact is that the man wants to win. In a typical year, he’d be a shoo-in for re-election against a Republican opponent whose appeal seems to be strictly regional. But this appears to be a year where GOP-types will do somewhat better than usual (although I expect the election cycle to end with Democrats still controlling most political posts in Illinois, if not all).

SO QUINN, WHO by some studies lost the women’s vote in the primary to departing Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, wants to do whatever is possible to make the difference between himself and Bill Brady, the state senator from Bloomington who won the GOP gubernatorial nomination, perfectly clear.

Not that it will be too difficult to distinguish between the two.

Right after Brady’s 193-vote primary victory over state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, became official earlier this month, Planned Parenthood of Illinois came out with its own opinion – saying that Brady’s record during 17 years as a state legislator, “completely disregards and denigrates women.”

While I understand that conservative activists of the female gender will disagree with Planned Parenthood’s ability to speak for all women, the fact is that Brady as a legislator has consistently voted on abortion-related bills in ways completely sympathetic to the anti-abortion viewpoint. They even say he is prepared to use the “executive order “ powers of the governor to impose additinoal restrictions related to the issue.

THEY ALSO HAVE problems with him opposing measures that would give women some degree of control over the process of their pregnancy. They cite a 2003 bill he co-sponsored that would allow insurance companies to offer plans that exclude items such as pap smears, mammograms and minimum hospital stays for childbirth.

After all, the logic of some people would go, such items could be considered luxuries not always essential for pregnant women but assurred of driving up the cost of a doctor’s bill.

Brady has also been a supporter of those pharmacists who want to impose their own so-called morals on all people by refusing to fill prescriptions of medications – such as birth control – that they object to.

This may be the Planned Parenthood impression of Brady, a man whom I will concede represents perfectly the mindset of residents of central Illinois. Perhaps he’d have a better shot of winning election if Illinois were a state more like Indiana, whose major city of Indianapolis is nowhere near as dominant over the state as Chicago is to Illinois.

SO THIS IS the image that Quinn has to run against. Which is why I’m sure the senator from Lake Bluff or the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon (who in her own right has served as a council member in Carbondale and is now a law school professor at Southern Illinois University) probably are running through the governor’s mind.

There might even be a superficial logic to any of these candidates.

But we all have to realize that Quinn’s opinion will be solicited only if Democratic Party officials are convinced that Quinn will agree with their opinion.

Because the bottom line is that this will be a party decision. Those party officials may pick a woman to be their nominee for lieutenant governor, unless they think there’s some other constituency they can better cater to by picking someone else.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Pat Quinn persists in preferring the idea of a woman as his running mate for the (http://www.suntimes.com/news/elections/2111577,CST-NWS-ltgov19web.article) Nov. 2 general election.

Antediluvian! How many people out there had to dig out the dictionary (or use a dictionary-type website) to get (http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2010/03/09/consumer-advocates-womens-groups-blast-brady) the meaning of that attack?

Friday, March 19, 2010

EXTRA: Blagojevich gets soap opera plug

I just happened to be walking by a television set a few minutes ago, only to hear a character say the line, “If I’m not careful, I’m going to wind up on some reality show with that Rod Blagoyasomething.”

It turns out, it was a soap opera. Days of Our Lives, to be specific, although I don’t know enough about the show to be able to tell you the character who uttered the line, or in what context it was used.

BUT THEN AGAIN, this probably gives Milorod yet another moment of “glory.” His persona gets included in a television show watched by millions of people who probably never paid any attention to him when he was a mere governor of Illinois.

How many other criminal defendants can make that claim?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Rod Blagojevich’s niche (http://www.globaltv.com/entertainment/shows/CelebrityApprentice/cast/Blagojevich/2612846/story.html) these days.

I don’t get it when it comes to motorcycle riders’ helmet opposition for kids

When I was about 13, I had an “uncle” (actually, my mother’s uncle, if you want to nitpick) who went through a phase of his life where he rode motorcycles.

There were times when my uncle would let me ride the bike. But the one “hard-and-fast” rule I recall was that my Uncle Sphinx was a stickler about was that I wore a helmet when I was on the bike.

CONSIDERING THE POTENTIAL power of a motorcycle and the fact that it is an “open-air” ride, I would have been too scared to get on board otherwise. Anybody who claims otherwise is either stupid, or lying.

Which is why I have a problem with the fact that the Illinois Senate on Thursday not only rejected a measure that would have required anybody under 18 who gets on board a motorcycle to wear a helmet, but that some legislators actually think that this is an issue of personal freedom being impinged upon – as though requiring a helmet to be worn by a minor is somehow evidence of a government telling its people what to do.

“This is the U.S.A., isn’t it,” asked state Sen. Gary Forby, a Democrat from Benton in Southern Illinois. “We do have a freedom, we do have a choice, don’t we?” Would the opponents of helmet laws change their stance if this helmet were mandated for all motorcycle riders?

I wish he were somehow kidding, but the fact is that such logic occasionally comes up during legislative debate when some rural legislator takes offense to a measure sponsored by someone from Chicago proper.

IN THIS PARTICULAR case, the bill was sponsored by state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, who when he’s not a legislator works as an administrator at Stroger Hospital. His co-sponsors include state Sens. Kwame Raoul and Jacqueline Collins, all three of whom are from Chicago’s South Side.

Which means that this measure got caught up in the same rhetorical speel that occurs whenever a gun-related measure comes up.

It becomes the Chicago legislators against the rest of the state, with the lead of the opposition taken up by the rural legislators. It becomes one of the few bills of the spring session where rural Illinois will be predominant.

If it sounds like I’m saying the regional partisanship of Illinois manages to overcome common sense when it comes to the issue, you’d be correct.

TROTTER TRIED TO cite his experience working at a hospital in saying that increased helmet use would reduce the number of injuries caused in motorcycle accidents, which he said would ultimately save taxpayer dollars that have to be spent to provide medical treatment in cases where someone isn’t insured.

Not that anybody wanted to hear a cost-saving or lesser-tax argument. Regionalism was at stake. Personal pride for where someone comes from, which means this measure goes nowhere this year.

What I don’t get about this particular issue is the fact that we have many such laws that require people to impose restrictions on their children for their own good. I don’t see how this differs.

Should I have claimed my personal freedoms were being impinged upon every time I used my car to give my niece (who is now 7) a ride, and I had to comply with the state laws requiring that I strap her into a proper car seat (which now sits unused in the trunk of my car)?

FOR THAT MATTER, should I claim that it is “un-American” for someone to require me to wear a seat belt within my own automobile, and that it constitutes an illegal search every time that police decide to pull one of their surprise inspections and have a cop come over and stick his head inside to make sure that all seat belts are properly fastened?

I’m not going to argue those points, because I realize that I would sound downright stupid if I seriously tried to make those arguments. I’d be one of those knuckleheads with no clue about public safety who would deserve to be the butt of those jokes told by some people whose punch line is along the lines of motorcycle riders getting what they deserve when they are crippled because they didn’t have enough sense to wear a helmet.

This time, however, I don’t feel like turning the Illinois Senate’s boneheaded vote (19 for, 32 against) into some sort of morbid joke. This one manages to get under my skin to the point where I have to wonder what is wrong with a segment of our society.

I realize that part of the greatness of the personal freedoms offered by our society includes a “right” to be wrong. But there’s something about this particular version of “wrong” because it involves minors to the point where I wonder if it ought to be constituted as “un-American” in and of itself.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois Senate gave us yet another moment that we can analyze for years to come (http://nwitimes.com/news/local/illinois/article_d905047d-de0c-5d52-968f-27dfa197daec.html) when trying to figure out what kind of blank space exists between their ears.

The bill (http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=2535&GAID=10&GA=96&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=49214&SessionID=76), and the vote (http://ilga.gov/legislation/votehistory/96/senate/09600SB2535_03182010_031000T.pdf).

Do the hard-core opponents of helmet laws think that Washington state officials are offering up (http://www.wsp.wa.gov/traveler/docs/equipmt/helmet.pdf) subversive information by telling us which helmets provide better safety features?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Let’s be real about Wrigley's feel

What would these Cubs fans from 1929 have thought of the fact that Budweiser or Toyota would someday use their seating location to advertise? Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

Reading the Internet commentary being spewed Wednesday about Wrigley Field and the desire by Toyota to install an advertising sign in the left-field bleachers is too ludicrous to take seriously – much like the Chicago Cubs themselves.

There are those people who are engaging in self-righteous rants about how such a sign desecrates a shrine of sorts to the Great Game of Baseball, and that something abhorrent is taking place.

PERSONALLY, I COULD care less about anything related to the Cubs. But I have to admit to not having much of a problem with this proposed advertising billboard – which would actually be a giant Toyota logo mounted on posts so that it sort of hovers over the bleachers.

It also will obscure the view from the stands of a casino advertisement that has been painted onto the rooftop of one of those apartment buildings that has stood for decades directly across the street from the outfield bleachers.

My point is to say that this is a ballpark that already has been loaded with “advertising.” So the idea that this is somehow a new move is only true if one wants to take on a twisted definition of “new.”

Now I know I’m going to hear arguments from Cubs fans who will say their team’s ballpark does not have advertising signboards plastered on its outfield walls. Until recently, it didn’t have any ads on the wall behind home plate either.

IT COULD BE argued that there were no advertisements within Wrigley Field.

The advertisements that come to mind when I think of Wrigley Field (although some of them have since been replaced) are the old “Torco” sign beyond right field and the “Budweiser” rooftop beyond left – the one that now shills for the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.

People want to think the fact that these signs were affixed to buildings with foundations outside the ballpark somehow makes them separate.

They’re not.

FOR THE ONE fact that fans of Wrigley Field (I’m not much of one, to tell you the truth) always like to claim as its prime virtue is that it has that big open-air view beyond the outfield walls that makes the upscale residential neighborhood of Lake View a part of the stadium’s atmosphere.

So as far as I’m concerned, all of those rooftop advertisements and other kitschy displays count when discussing the atmosphere in Wrigley Field. And I honestly can’t say that I think the proposed Toyota advertisement – or at least the mockup that I have seen – is any tackier than anything else that currently exists in or near Wrigley.

If anything, I like its positioning in left field because it partially obscures the view of the Horseshoe Casino ad, which in my mind’s eye will always shill for Budweiser (which paid for that prime visual spot for decades).

For those who think I’m living in the past, I’d argue it is Cubs fans who are still stuck by praising a ballpark named for a corporate interest that hasn’t owned the team for nearly three decades. “Wrigley” Field should always have a “Budweiser” ad beyond left field, even though both brands are, strictly speaking, history!

IT’S NOT THAT I like Budweiser. I thought it was a garish ad. But I find the thought of it preferable to the ad that now beckons to people to travel just a few blocks across State Line Road to throw away whatever little of their money they have remaining following a day at the ballpark.

Cover it up, I say.

Let the casino owners rant and rage at the thought that they paid a property owner good money to plug their business on his building, only to have Toyota come in and obscure some of their attention.

What also makes me laugh about this sanctimoneous trash talk is that people like to think Wrigley Field is a building that still carries the same character as the day it opened in 1914. Not even close.

NONE OF THOSE old ballparks from that era that people like to celebrate (while conveniently forgetting how much they were like Comiskey Park – cramped and uncomfortable and decaying to the point of seediness) were adverse to having advertising.

In some cases, those old ballparks are recalled because of their advertising signboards (Ebbets Field in Brooklyn with its “Hit Sign, Win Suit” ad, or the Schaefer beer logo with the letters that lit up for “hit” or “error”).

How do we know that the Toyota ad doesn’t have the potential to become iconic? Hit a home run that dings the sign, and somebody wins a free car – although knowing ballclub cheapness standards, it more likely would be, hit a home run and everybody wins a Toyota-logo keychain.

There might very well be the day when fans of the future will think it odd to envision Wrigley Field without that Toyota sign, and will consider the rhetoric of today to be downright absurd. Besides, now all the fans who sit in the right field bleachers will have another reason to hate on Toyota.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

EXTRA: Quinn restores Election Day, while Blagojevich still set for June 3 trial

I still say that Gov. Pat Quinn should have signed this bill (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/I/IL_ILLINOIS_PRIMARY_ILOL-?SITE=ILBLO&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULTRY_ILOL-?SITE=ILBLO&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT) into law yesterday, which would have been Election Day had state officials not messed around with the local elections back in ’08.

We can get back to a “normal” election cycle come 2012, and go back to mocking our Hoosier counterparts, who don’t have their primary elections this year until the late date of May 4.

I AM ALSO not the least bit surprised that a federal judge refused to consider re-scheduling the beginning of (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/I/IL_BLAGOJEVICH_CORRUPTION_CASE_ILOL-?SITE=ILBLO&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT) jury selection for the upcoming trial of one-time Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Too many people seem to have a vested interest in this trial beginning June 3 (instead of after the Nov. 2 general election) for a judge to give in to a rescheduling, even though Blagojevich’s point that it might be worth waiting until after the Supreme Court of the United States rules on the validity of “honest services” charges might actually be one of the most logical things that ever came out of Milorod’s mouth.

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What constitutes bigoted thought?

It always makes me laugh whenever people whose basic thought process is less than enlightened on social issues try to accuse their critics of being the real racists.

You know, the conservatives who want to believe it is progressive elements of our society that place non-white people into negative niches from which they cannot escape.

BECAUSE WHENEVER THESE conservatives try to trash their opposition, usually by accusing them of playing the “race card,” it usually comes across as bigots trying to distract people from looking too closely at their own bigotry.

That is how I view the recent actions of the Illinois State Rifle Association, which in its role of trying to advocate for changes in state law to benefit firearms owners has managed to make itself look downright absurd.

Even more ridiculous than the bill they supposedly are against.

What has the state rifle association all hot and bothered this time is a bill by state Rep. Harry Osterman, D-Chicago, that purports to be a tough-on-crime measure. It would make it a crime for any gun dealer to sell a firearm of any type to a person whom they know to be a member of a street gang.

THE PURCHASE WOULD be a criminal act, even if the so-called gang member was able to pass all the criminal background checks now mandated by federal law.

The state rifle association is trying to stick up for the gun dealers, and I can understand that. They have a cause (even if it is one that I usually oppose), and they’re exercising their right to freedom of expression.

But the rifle association has managed to cram that combat boot-clad right foot of theirs straight into their mouth with the way they tried to spin the issue. For their statement issued this week that tried to shine light on the issue was headlined, “Bill that would effectively prohibit African-Americans and Hispanics from buying guns advances in the Illinois General Assembly.”

The statement goes on to read that gun-dealers fearing prosecution under this new law would wind up refusing to sell firearms to anyone who isn’t white, then tries to say that the supporters of the change in the law are calling for actions that cause, “the calendar on race relations will be turned back 70 years.”

ACTUALLY, THE PROBLEM in our society these days is that we still have people who would think that “gang member” is somehow synonymous with someone who is Latino or black, which is this particular attack’s clear implication.

They want to lambast people who are trying to do something about the flow of firearms into the community and are willing to stir up ethnic and racial tensions to try to do so. That is the actual bigoted act. The idea that this measure (if it were to become law) somehow stirs up the tensions is as “vile” as the state rifle association claims the proposed law is.

Despite my complaint, I will agree with the overall stance that this particular measure is a flawed gesture – primarily because it is trying to appeal to the “law and order” types who usually are among the gun lobby’s biggest boosters.

I’m not going to deny that there haven’t been instances where people who are involved in street gangs somehow get their firearms through legitimate sources.

BUT IT IS these same firearms advocates who always claim that the criminals won’t pay attention to gun bans because they obtain their weapons through illegal means that ought to realize that so-called gang members (I’m not even going to get into the potential vagueness of defining what constitutes a street gang) will have their own measures – even if such a bill ever became law.

My biggest problem with this idea is the fact that it would apply even if someone somehow qualified under the Brady Law restrictions on firearms purchases – which means we’re now talking about making judgments over who should be able to have a firearm.

I wonder if the true purpose of this bill is to give a legislator a so-called accomplishment he can include on his campaign literature even though the practical effects of the bill (I doubt many licensed gun dealers would ever be prosecuted under such a measure) are nil.

But I think these firearms advocates do realize all this. They’re just looking to stir up resentment through cheap tactics such as this, and if it means injecting ethnic and racial issues into the debate, I’m sure they truly don’t care.

NOW I REALIZE that when it comes to politics and lobbying for a cause, there are times when one goes all out and hits hard and doesn’t particularly worry about who gets hurt. So if they want to use such tactics, I understand why.

I just don’t want to hear them cry and whine when sensible people call them out on their trash talk and point out that this is nothing more than a lame attempt to shift the focus in our society away from the people with real racial hang-ups.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois State Rifle Association’s image of a street gang member trying to con a firearms dealer (http://www.your-story.org/bill-that-would-effectively-prohibit-african-americans-and-hispanics-from-buying-guns-advances-in-the-illinois-general-assembly-142522/) into selling him a weapon by wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and speaking proper English is laughable on so many levels.

I doubt that Harry Osterman seriously is trying to stir up racial tensions, as much as he’s just trying to “look tough” (http://www.ilga.gov/house/Rep.asp?MemberID=956) on crime so he can get re-elected to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It feels like an Election Day

There is a part of me that wishes I were headed for my polling place to cast my ballot to indicate preferences for candidates for the November elections.

Today is the third Tuesday of March, which traditionally was the date upon which primary elections were conducted in Illinois – a date that in some years can coincide with St. Patrick’s Day (although this year, it misses the great green festival by one day).

BY THIS POINT, I am now ready to make the trip to my neighborhood Lutheran church (which doubles as the local polling place) to cast my votes related to the state government and U.S. senate elections, along with picking all those judges.

The only problem is that it is NOT Election Day. We (or at least the few of us who bothered) all cast our ballots in the primary election held six weeks ago. Although I find a bit of poetic justice in the fact that we didn’t figure out that Bill Brady really won the Republican primary until just over a week ago.

Is that some sort of cosmic sign saying that THIS is the time of the year when we should be deciding things. These District of Columbia residents of 1938 couldn't vote because of the local laws in the federal district. We can't vote Tuesday because our officials foolishly held our elections six weeks ago. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

In one of the few bits of evidence that our politicos aren’t completely brain-dead, Illinois is considering a return to mid-March elections. Just last week, the Illinois House of Representatives gave its final approval to a bill that shifts the elections from early February to this time of year.

NOW, IT GOES to Gov. Pat Quinn, and his aides say the governor, “looks forward” to signing the measure into law. So 2010 will be remembered not only as the title of an awful sequel, but as the final year in which we had ridiculously early elections.

It also is evidence that some of our political peoples’ stupidest gestures can be undone.

I remember thinking that the Illinois Legislature was being incredibly short-sighted when this change was made. Somehow, the desired goal of giving homestate politico Barack Obama an advantage didn’t seem worth it.

In the end, moving the primary in 2008 to early February wound up resulting in exactly what state officials were trying to avoid – our state’s primary that year got lost in the shuffle.

HOW ELSE TO explain the fact that the Illinois primary was held the same day as New York and California? The national attention wound up going to California because it was the one state that wasn’t home to a Democratic presidential hopeful.

Considering how the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination that year turned into a drawn-out fiasco that wasn’t resolved until the whole process ended in June, Indiana with its ridiculously-late May primary wound up having more influence than Illinois.

Some will argue that 2008 was a bizarre election year that should not be used as a standard for analyzing anything. I’d agree. To me, the more dangerous after-effect of an early February primary is what occurred this year.

The early Election Day date contributed to the fact that record-low voter turnouts were registered in many counties across the state. Nobody wanted to be bothered with thinking about voting for anything (not even something as important as senator or governor) at that early date.

IT ALSO CREATED such a short primary season (barely a month of campaigning) that I honestly believe most people didn’t have a clue who they were voting for.

Anybody who looks at the primaries in both major political parties for lieutenant governor would have to admit that candidates with actual records would have had time to get the word out – instead of people picking the candidates who had money to appear often in television campaign ads.

Perhaps we could have avoided Scott Lee Cohen or Jason Plummer if we had more time to study the candidates? Of course, those candidates might have been able to use their financial advantage to burn their impressions so strong into the public conscience that people might have cared more that Cohen could win an election and still get shoved aside by his political party “allies.”

Of course, I’m not saying lieutenant governor was the only affected office by the early Election day this year.

I WONDER IF a few more weeks would have enabled one of the Republican gubernatorial dreamers to do better. Could six more weeks have allowed state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, to find 194 more votes – thereby making him the winner?

On the Democratic side, I will always be convinced that the one big winner of an early Election Day this year was Quinn himself. Six more weeks of having to campaign, and perhaps departing Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes would have overcome the Mighty Quinn.

Hynes versus Dillard, if only we had held this year’s primary elections (and I write this as one who actually voted last month for Quinn) at the right time? It will be one of the all-time Could Have Been issues that our political watchers will discuss for years.

It’s too bad Quinn couldn’t actually sign this particular bill into law on Tuesday. It wouldn’t do a thing to undo this year’s election results (apparently, only Cohen-like behavior can undo an election).

BUT IT WOULD eliminate a significant flaw in the political process that we built into the system a couple of years ago. Now, we can go back to complaining about the candidates themselves being incompetent and out-of-touch.

What could be more “All-American” than that?

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Bill Black, a legislator from Danville, always has a knack for being blunt-spoken and honest (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2010/03/illinois-primary-election-headed-back-to-march.html), particularly his assessment (http://www.sj-r.com/state/x673415277/Later-primary-bill-now-heads-to-governor) that February primaries were “a disaster.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Federal politics of health care are as much of a mess as the health care issue itself

I find it absurd these days to read or hear the continued Republican rhetoric on the issue of health care when GOP officials claim that President Barack Obama is bringing doom to his Democratic Party colleagues by continuing to push for the issue.

What is so absurd about that issue is not the fact that Republican officials will design rhetoric for this year’s campaign’s meant to damn Obama and his allies, but the idea that they really believe that they’re somehow going to gain a moral victory from this issue.

NOW I DON’T know if the issue is coming up for a vote on Monday, or later this week, or suddenly at a future moment once enough arms have been twisted by the Obama Administration to get them to vote “yes.”

What I see from the various polls is that about half of the people of this nation still approve of Obama’s performance, and that the percentage of people who approve of the measure now pending before Congress to offer health care reform is about the same as Obama’s approval rating.

In short, the people who have a problem with this passing and say they will “take it out” on Obama would have been opposed to the president and his allies regardless and will find some other issue with which to vote against him come the Nov. 2 elections if they can not use health care.

There’s also the fact that those same polls usually show Obama with slightly more people approving of him than disapproving, but Congress usually has approval ratings that resemble something swirling around the political toilet bowl (George W. Bush at his lowest was better liked than Congress is these days).

WHAT IS DISGUSTING to the American people about this issue is not so much that Obama has tried to do something about the current situation in this country where roughly 47 million people who live here do not have any kind of health insurance.

Which means if they get sick, they either do not get treated or they wind up pushing off the expense for their health care upon government-run public hospitals. Which means the taxpayer gets hit with the bill.

So much for the idea that Obama has devised a plan so expensive that the taxpayer will get hit with the bill. We’re going to get hit with a big bill either way. It’s just a difference whether it will be the federal government helping out, or will the county government (that runs the public hospital) have to deal with this all by themselves?

What bothers us is the partisan maneuvering, and on both sides.

WE HAVE A serious problem that for the first time in 16 years, a president is trying to show the initiative to address. Yet on the Democratic side of the Senate and House of Representatives, we have elected officials who behave as though they wish they wore the “R” after their names (for Republican) and are all too quick to make compromises so as to minimize the extent to which health care reform would truly “reform” anything.

And on the Republican side, we get too many partisan pols who just don’t want to touch the issue until a time when they can take credit for it while also protecting the financial interests of the insurance industry officials who are among their biggest financial supporters.

A Gallup Organization poll last week found 48 percent of people disapproving of the current health care reform measure, while only 45 percent liked it.

Considering all the partisan games that have been played with the legislation by Congress, it’s a wonder that the disapproval rating isn’t higher.

YET I THINK it is foolish to think that this somehow reflects poorly upon the president, who currently has 49 percent of the electorate approving of his performance on the job (compared to 44 percent disapproving).

That same Gallup Organization currently gives Congress a 16 percent approval rating overall, with 24 percent approving of Democratic congressmembers and only 14 percent approving of the GOP members.

Anyone who claims the disgust level is aimed solely at Democratic congressmen is lying to you. Part of my intent in writing this commentary is to un-spin that little lie we’re going to hear repeatedly in coming months.

We’re tired of the fact that some people wanted to take health care reform and use it to make statements related to the immigration and abortion debates currently taking place in this country. We hate the fact that the only way this issue has a chance to get through Congress is through political maneuvers so arcane and questionable that some wonder if they comply with the U.S. Constitution.

WE DESPISE THE fact that we are not going to get a straight “up or down” vote on this issue, and that coming up with a way to cover the health care costs of as many people as possible has become bogged down in the muck.

When some people say that Obama should have focused on unemployment and economic issues in general during his first year as president, I wonder how many of those people are making the mistaken assumption that putting people back to work will get them a health insurance plan as a job perk?

For I can’t help but notice the number of jobs that don’t offer any such insurance, or where companies are trying to cut the perks they offer in an attempt to bolster their profitability (although in all fairness, there are cases where it is a matter of turning any kind of profit at all).

Thirty-one percent of people polled may have told Gallup recently they consider “unemployment” to be the most important issue (“healthcare” was third with 20 percent), but health care is an issue that is going to have to be resolved or else it’s lack in certain segments of our society will be the key factor that drags us all down in future years.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Several polls by the Gallup Organization say much about our society these days, but this (http://www.gallup.com/poll/126614/Americans-Say-Jobs-Top-Problem-Deficit-Future.aspx) one about people being more concerned with unemployment and the economy makes me wonder how much people understand how the issues are intertwined.

I wonder how many Chicago-style political tactics are being applied this weekend to remind those so-called moderate Democrats (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/03/sunday-snapshot-the-coming-crunch-week-for-health-care/37461/) in Congress that they do bear the “D” after their names and ought to vote accordingly.

Even if a favorable health care reform vote is taken this week, Barack Obama is going to have to immediately cope with those people who think immigration reform must now become the priority issue (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=10081177) for this administration.