Friday, April 30, 2010

Baseball is more than a game, even when it doesn’t want to be on certain issues

It was just over a week ago in the moments right after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer put her state at the eye of the storm that is the immigration reform battle that I read a baseball-oriented website that suggested the Arizona Diamondbacks be kicked out of the National League.

The idea was that Arizona had shown itself to be too close-minded to be worthy of a major league baseball franchise, and that someone should move the Phoenix-based team to one of the other cities across this country that would like to have professional baseball at its highest level. Wrigley Field back in simpler times, before protesters ever thought it worth their time to gather at the ballpark to point out the fact that the visiting team comes from the "Show Me Your Papers" state.

NOT THAT ANYBODY within baseball (which has the ability to be 50 years behind the times at all the wrong moments) is taking seriously the concept of a franchise shift. Las Vegas, Portland, Montreal, Mexico City, Monterrey and northern New Jersey are not going to get a team anytime soon.

But there are fans who seem determined to ostracize the Diamondbacks (even though to the best of my knowledge, the only player on their roster who was born in Arizona was relief pitcher Bob Howry – who also has played for both the White Sox and the Cubs, along with the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants) this season.

Hence, we got the sight on Thursday of a few dozen people with picket signs outside of Wrigley Field, along with a nitwit counter-demonstrator who claimed that protesting against Arizona meant protesting against America.

It never fails to amaze me that the people of 50 to 100 years ago who truly believed that the “American Way” of life included segregation of the races have their equivalent in the 21st Century in thinking that this country’s ideals include exclusion.

STILL, MY GUT reaction is to wonder if the pickets outside of Wrigley Field will pick up during the remaining three games of the four-game series that runs through Sunday. Because I am sure there are some individuals who will hear that only about 40 people showed up at the humble abode of one Elwood J. Blues, compared to the thousands who were there to torture themselves with bad baseball being played, and figure that is evidence that they are somehow "morally correct" on this issue.

The USA Today newspaper managed to get one of these fans to say that people using a sporting event to protest a political issue is “silly.”

Then again, I’m sure he had his equivalents 70 years ago when some activists tried protesting the exclusion of black people from the ranks of professional ballplayers. There probably were those people who resented having that issue brought up when they were trying to escape reality for a few hours by watching a ballgame.

Now I will be the first to admit to understanding that latter sentiment. It is the reason I follow professional baseball.

BUT I ALSO have enough sense to realize that professional baseball operates within our society. It is not a world all to itself. It ought to reflect the realities of the world around it. So I’m not bothered at the thought that the Diamondbacks players are going to have to see this sight every day they are in Chicago, and probably every day they travel on the road.

I would expect that all of their road games for the rest of this year will result in local activists showing up outside the stadiums to remind people that their home teams are about to beat up on the boys from Phoenix. For all I know, that recent study about the least popular baseball teams (according to a new computer algorhythm that seems to make little sense) may wind up showing the Diamondbacks as the most despised team when it is recalculated – rather than the Cleveland Indians with their ridiculous “Chief Wahoo” logo on their caps.

Insofar as what Arizona fans will think of this attention being dumped on their team? I’m sure the ballclub itself will be only a small part of the derision that Arizona and its people are going to find themselves receiving.

Already, some business interests are getting concerned about the political situation – although that is mostly because businesses prefer for there to be no controversy whatsoever. Anything that draws attention is considered to be a negative.

SO HERE’S HOPING that the activist types this weekend can get a few hundred of their ranks to show up at the ballpark, even though the Saturday game will coincide with the Chicago protest march that will take a few tens of thousands of people on a walk from the Teamsters offices at Jackson Boulevard and Ashland Avenue to the shadows of the Picasso statue outside Daley Plaza.

Because activity like this will help draw some attention to the Arizona situation, although if Major League Baseball really wanted to get the attention of the Arizona political and business establishments, they’d threaten to pull all of their training camps out of the state and relocate entirely to Florida.

Somehow, I think we’d have an easier time convincing baseball officials to move the Diamondbacks to another city.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Probably the only way to sway Major League Baseball that Arizona’s situation impacts them is for some of their ballplayers to have to endure law enforcement harassment while visiting Phoenix.

I can’t help but wonder about Rodrigo Lòpez Muñoz, one of the Diamondbacks pitchers this season who comes from Tlalnepantla in central Mexico. Because he is desired by a professional sports team, his route to a visa is much simpler than most people (although his can, and will, be revoked the instant he is released by the Diamondbacks). What happens the day Lòpez is late for a “big game” because some cop didn’t want to believe that this particular “Mexican” could have legitimate papers?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kirk doesn’t want his picture taken with Sarah Palin, will that hurt him Nov. 2?

Every time conditions arise that make people think the political campaign of Alexi Giannoulias is dead and the rotting corpse ought to be buried immediately, something happens that ought to remind us that his Republican opponent has his own problems to address.

So on the same day that President Barack Obama used an appearance in Quincy, Ill., to give the Giannoulias name a positive plug, we get news reports informing us that Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., will not be seen next month with Sarah Palin – the one-time Alaska governor whose political presence is goddess-like among a faction of the electorate that Kirk could use come Nov. 2.

PALIN WILL BE in suburban Rosemont on May 12 for a fundraiser being held by the Illinois Republican Party – a political entity whose top priority these days is trying to win the election for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.

Kirk being the GOP nominee for that position, one would think his presence would be mandatory. After all, some of that cash being raised is bound to go towards advertising and other projects meant to promote his image as being Senate-like.

But the Chicago Tribune this week reported that Kirk isn’t going to Rosemont on that date. Instead, he’s staying in Washington, where he will be “aw shucks”-ing it into having us believe that he’s just the member of Congress from the North Shore suburbs, representing the interests of his constituents instead of commingling with the GOP’s latest Country/Western Star (if Dem bigwigs are Rock Stars, what does that make the Republican celebs?).

On the day that his political party is trying to have one of its biggest days in terms of bolstering their image and trying to create an aura of inevitability that Republicans will win big on Election Day, Kirk will be nothing more than a member of the minority political party in Washington.

WHO’S TO SAY that Congress will do anything of significance that day? A chance to latch onto the Palin persona (which he was so eager to do back during the primary election cycle) would seem on a superficial level to be mandatory.

Of course, if one thinks a little deeper about this situation, it becomes obvious why Kirk would want nothing to do with the political persona of Palin that even manages to offend some Republican partisans. Getting too close to Palin puts Kirk in a position to offend voters.

That is something he cannot afford to do. He has to keep all of the “offended” people in the Giannoulias camp, thereby ensuring they see him as the rational alternative. The last thing he really needs to do in his desire to portray himself as the politically moderate alternative who can appeal to everybody is to get too tied to the hard-core partisans of his own political party.

Yet Kirk has the same problem as many other officials. Those hard-cores are the ones who are most behind the constant polls that have many people believing that 2010 is destined to be an excellent election cycle for officials of the Republican persuasion.

A GALLUP ORGANIZATION poll released Wednesday that had 46 percent of those surveyed saying they would vote for a Republican to represent them in Congress (compared to 45 percent saying they want a Democrat) found that the people most “enthusiastic” were the Republican-leaners.

That poll had 57 percent of those “very enthusiastic” about voting this year saying they want the GOP, while only 37 percent want a Dem. That is what overcomes the fact that people who are “somewhat enthusiastic” or “not enthusiastic” about voting actually prefer Democrats in Congress.

We’re talking about the ideologues who are driving this issue – the people who in 2008 were ABO, and whose sense of wanting Anybody But Obama has only intensified during the past year.

Let’s be honest. Many of these people are among Palin’s biggest backers.

WHICH MEANS I wonder how many of them are going to see Kirk’s presence in Washington on the day that Goddess Sarah comes to his home county as some sort of a sign of disrespect. Will it stir up resentment from people, and start them in ticking off the list of issues (gun control, abortion, etc.) where they think he is just “too urban/liberal/freaky/whatever term they prefer” to truly represent the Illinois they want to create?

Some people might respond to me by saying that I’m sniffing some tainted drugs from the Giannoulias campaign’s personal stash. There is a sense that such logic is wishful thinking on the part of the Alexi camp.

But there is also truth to the idea that the Kirk campaign is going to be an intense walk along a balance beam, with conservative razor wire underneath ready to slash him to pieces if he slips up and falls.

Is the act of stiffing Sarah in Rosemont going to hurt him, or help?


EDITOR’S NOTES: It looks like Mark Kirk won’t be among the people writing out a $25,000 check payable to the order of the Illinois Republican Party so he can have his picture taken with Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I’ll be watching outside Obama gathering in Quincy for any real campaign news

Quincy, Ill., hasn’t had this many Chicago people pay attention to it since the days some four decades ago when the Chicago Cubs had a minor league affiliate there.

Yet all of the political observers who specialize in Second City, and perhaps even a few amateurs who think the activity on Capitol Hill is as intense, are going to be watching the Mississippi River town of some 40,000 people to see what President Barack Obama does during his visit on Wednesday.

OFFICIALLY, OBAMA IS visiting several “middle-America” municipalities this week as part of what he is billing as a “White House to Main Street” tour – as though popping into Quincy and several other places just like it will suddenly make him more aware of what the people of our nation want from their federal government.

But the Quincy stop is going to get some extra scrutiny because it will be the only one on this tour that puts him within the boundaries of Illinois. Technically, it is official government business, and NOT a campaign stop.

So taxpayer funds will wind up covering the cost of travel and security and all the other nuances that get involved anytime a president takes it upon himself to commingle with the public.

But that distinction between government business and campaign business is going to get blurred, because Obama earlier this week gave invitations to just about every Democratic government official in Illinois – including Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias.

THE LATTER IS facing his own political perception problems that Republican partisans are eager to exaggerate into matters of grave significance – and seeing how Giannoulias deals with this conduct will tell us a lot about whether he is fit to serve in the U.S. Senate.

But there are those who are trying to read into his invitation some sort of support from Obama – a sign that the president is going to take a strong hand in trying to get his one-time basketball-playing buddy back on track from having to deal with the image that Republicans want us to have – one of a mob-tied banker who’s being bailed out by the same taxpayers who are paying for Air Force One to make a stop close enough to Adams County, Ill., that he can be in Quincy.

If this commentary reads like I am mocking the idea that Obama can (or will) do anything of significance to “save” Giannoulias on Wednesday, you would be dead-on accurate.

Personally, I will be surprised if Giannoulias, or Quinn, or anybody who serves on our local political scene, is allowed to say anything of significance that would allow them any specific attention. This appearance is about promoting Obama’s federal governing credentials, not bolstering our local campaign scene.

THE ONLY REAL significance would have been if Giannoulias had somehow been denied an invitation, although I personally would not have considered it to be too much of a snub.

But he didn’t.

Obama invited Giannoulias, along with Quinn (who should be smacking Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady’s campaign all over the place these days, but isn’t) and just about any other Democrat with a pulse.

It’s not a specific honor. I’d be amazed if Obama said anything that could be construed as supportive because this just wouldn’t be the place for it.

ADAMS COUNTY IS not some Democratic stronghold. Obama lost that county in the 2008 general election by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin to Republican opponent John McCain (although he beat Hillary R. Clinton in the primary there by a 57 percent to 39 percent margin).

In fact, the website of the Quincy Herald-Whig newspaper (I like that name) had a completely-unscientific (but possibly honest) reader poll that had 73 percent of respondents saying they would neither try to see Obama, nor watch him on local television, during his visit.

So for all those people who are convinced that Wednesday is going to somehow influence our local elections, I’d be very skeptical. In fact, about the only reason I’m going to be watching what happens in Quincy is that I’m curious to see how the counter-demonstration progresses.

A group calling itself Quincy’s “Tea Party movement” plans to hold its own rally outside of the hall where Obama is hoping to hold a “town hall” session. Inside the hall will be an impromptu session that is as completely-scripted as any public appearance a president makes.

OUTSIDE WILL BE an event more chaotic, in that who’s to say what these Tea Party types are capable of doing.

Will we get a vocal, but respectful (as in acknowledging the office, regardless of the man in it), voice of dissent? Or will it deteriorate into some sort of raucous mess that winds up making the Republican Party in Illinois have to issue some sort of lame apology and denial that they were even involved?

Be honest. That option is much more likely than the thought of Giannoulias saying anything interesting, or getting any kind of real support while he gets to stand on stage during the event and serve as a presidential prop of sorts.


EDITOR’S NOTES: They’re already acting in Quincy as though they are being snubbed, pointing out that the president didn’t say much of anything on his arrival in Illinois on Tuesday. He is hitting towns in Iowa and Missouri before returning to Quincy for a Wednesday town hall forum.

No matter how much some people want to believe it so, Alexi Giannoulias is likely to be the least interesting aspect of what will happen Wednesday in the Gem City.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Trophy for bragging rights? How lame!

I used to think that the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk was just about the lamest athletic trophy in existence.

It was the token given to the winner each year of the football game played between Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That strikes me as getting all worked up over which team finishes 10th place and which one winds up in 11th place in the Big Ten Conference.


Of course, we no longer have the tomahawk, which was retired a couple of years ago after more than a half-century of service. We now get the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which replaced the tomahawk in terms of lameness – at least until this week.

For now, we local sports fans can get ourselves worked up into an athletic frenzy over the very notion of the BP Crosstown Cup.

The what?!???

I WISH I were kidding. But that is the new prize announced Monday that will be given to the Chicago professional baseball team that manages to win the most games in head-to-head competition each season.

In short, we’re talking about the City Series, the Crosstown Classic, the Sox versus Flubs, or whatever tag you use to describe those six games each year (out of 162 overall) when the Chicago White Sox take on the Chicago Cubs.

The Chicago Tribune used its website Monday to report about the creation of the cup, which supposedly will be a three-foot-tall trophy that will be given to the team that wins the most games each season. If, by chance, each team manages to win three games (which does happen quite often), then there will supposedly be tie-breaker factors meant to put one ballclub ahead of the other.

In short, we’re now going to get the sight of an official trophy presentation each year – even in years when both of Chicago’s ballclubs are managing to stink up the joint even moreso than the Union Stockyards ever did and there isn’t anything else to brag about.

THAT COULD VERY well be this season, since the White Sox who some think have a shot to contend for a division title and playoff spot were as of Monday the team with a record of 8-11. Shut up, Cubs fans. Your preferred ballclub was only one game better at 9-10.

Excuse me for thinking this is too gimicky to take seriously. The whole idea of a serious athletic rivalry is that it happens, and usually is long-lasting enough that it can span across generations.

Trying to jump-start it by creation of trophies or other nonsensical rhetoric is little more than absurd.

If anything, Sox/Cubs is one of those aspects of our Chicago society, tying in closely with the whole South Side versus North Side that does determine a lot of our cultural aspects (I have known people who consider themselves devoted Chicagoans who have never set foot south of Roosevelt Road or north of Fullerton Avenue (and then only to check out DePaul University as a possible college to attend, before determining the place to be too “North Side-ish” to consider).

EVEN IN THE cases of people living outside the respective ballclub’s “region,” it usually becomes a sign that a person wants to adopt some sort of sympathy with the other.

Northwest Siders rooting for the Sox are merely displaced South Siders, while Southwest Siders rooting for the Cubs are self-hating nitwits (just kidding, they’re merely lost, and deserve our sympathy for being so misguided).

This kind of thing can’t be bolstered with a “Cup,” which I’m sure will wind up becoming the subject of ridicule by fans of both ballclubs. Could that be the reason that the cup’s creation was announced without a mockup of what it could possibly look like?

Somebody knew that hard-core Sox fans would find something to mock about it, no matter what it looks like.

THESE ARE THE people, after all, who took to calling their favorite ballclub’s stadium, “The Cell” (as in prison) because they didn’t want to have to continually give reference to the corporate entity that back in 2003 bought the naming rights to the building – which, surprisingly, remains in business, so the structure at 35th Street and Bill Veeck Drive hasn’t gone through multi-corporate names during its two decades of existence.

Which is why I find it hilarious that even the new cup that supposedly will pay tribute to the winner of Sox/Cubs each year has a corporate name.

For the record, it is the one-time British Petroleum Co., whose green-and-yellow BP signs can be seen on non-discount gas stations throughout the Chicago area. So now, we can say that the best of Chicago baseball each year gives us gas.

Somehow, that seems all to appropriate – particularly for the South Side ballclub that some people are still holding out hope can turn things around and not be completely embarrassing (that’s what kind of thoughts a three-game sweep against Seattle will put in one’s head).


EDITOR’S NOTES: June 11-13 at Wrigley Field, and June 25-27 at U.S. Cellular Field. That is when too many baseball fans will be overserved, and when our city’s two century-plus ballclubs will act as though they are in some sort of collegiate rivalry.

Monday, April 26, 2010

EXTRA: Palin comes (barely) to Cook Co.

It looks like I have to take back a wisecrack I made about a week ago, one where I implied that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wouldn’t have the nerve to set foot in Chicago and probably would’t come any closer to our “Paradise on Earth” than her recent visit to Washington, Ill.

For it seems that the Illinois Republican Party is getting the divisive politico (be honest, do you know anyone who is apathetic about “that woman?”) to agree to make an appearance at a May 12 fundraiser to be held at the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont.

THAT MEANS PALIN will be in Cook County, at least for a couple of hours that night. She even will wind up setting foot briefly in Chicago proper, since I would guess she will arrive at our fine metropolitan area through O’Hare International Airport – which is just a few minutes away from that particular hotel.

Of course, I can’t see her venturing any further into the Second City than necessary – even though the 41st Ward that technically includes the airport is the one that historically has been willing to pick political officials of the GOP in Democratic stronghold Chicago.

Not that I expect to know anybody who will attend. This fundraiser has a $500 per ticket cost ($750 per couples) – if you want to be a tightwad and get the cheap admission with no access. Anybody who wants a picture taken with Palin (or, Heaven forbid, actual physical access and a chance to say “hi”) will have to pay significantly more.

Excuse me for thinking that I have better ways to spend my limited funds these days.


Are we Cook Co. voters in for the ‘Battle of the Independents’ this election cycle?

I can think of one person who will be absolutely disgusted at the notion of Scott Lee Cohen trying to revamp his political reputation by running a candidacy for electoral office independent of the political parties.

That person would be Forrest Claypool – who himself is running an independent campaign for electoral office come the Nov. 2 elections.

I’M SURE THERE is a part of Claypool who wanted to claim that his independence of any political party in his bid to become Cook County assessor made him high-minded and worthy of our respect. The ultimate goo-goo who would lead a “revolution” of sorts against the Democratic Party hacks and the conservative ideologues who have taken over the Republican Party.

The problem is that Cohen is now also talking about taking the “independent” route – deciding he wants to use it to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP nominee William Brady.

If he couldn’t have the Democratic Party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, he’s willing to muck up the chances of the two major party nominees who are seeking the office of governor.

Which means we have someone who seems to be more interested in messing with the political people who didn’t back him when he legitimately won the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination.. He may even get a chance to rehabilitate somewhat his reputation – which causes many Illinois residents these days to think of him as nothing more than a pawnbroker or a deadbeat who owes his ex-wife alimony.

WHAT I THINK will happen is that Cohen will add a third label to himself – the highest-profile candidate who made absolutely NO impact on a campaign season.

It also will mess with Claypool in that people will think of the two as an informal pairing of sorts – which will make it harder for the outgoing Cook County Board member to take the high road. Too many people will view them as a pair of political people who didn’t have what it takes to run in the regular elections, so they’re trying to slip into office through the back door – so to speak.

Perhaps I am just a bit cynical, but I would think that if Claypool were serious about wanting to be the county assessor (the office that collects all those property taxes that homeowners pay every year and that local governments and schools rely upon to fund their existence), he would have sought a Democratic nomination during the primary season.

Instead, we got Board of Review Commissioner Joe Berrios managing to win the nomination to replace retiring Assessor James Houlihan – despite the views of many political observers that he is exactly the kind of political party establishment type whom voters are inclined to reject in what some see as a “non-incumbent” trend.

COULD IT BE that Claypool, who tried four years ago to become county board President, became wearied of the electoral process that he’s looking for a short-cut of sorts to get into office? If that is the case, then his “independent” bid ought to be enough reason to vote against him – no matter what one thinks of Berrios.

My guess is that he thinks he has better name recognition than Berrios among Cook County voters, and could thus have a chance of actually winning that campaign.

I have always viewed the wear and tear of going through a political campaign (even enduring the more stupid and trivial moments) as a test of sorts to see how qualified someone is for electoral office. It seems to me that Claypool is trying to short-circuit that process.

I’m only glad that he is not trying to use a short-cut to run against county board President nominees Toni Preckwinkle or Roger Keats. That kind of election would result in his downfall, and rightfully so.

SO WHEN CLAYPOOL – who once was one of the many chiefs of staff who have worked for Mayor Richard M. Daley – tries to portray himself as the ultimate good-government type, I am going to be a bit cynical. As far as I’m concerned, his campaign will be closer in character to that of Cohen than it will be anything even remotely Obama-esque.

As for Cohen, I see his campaign as being little more than creating an alternate “final act” than the one he gave us – that of him bursting into tears while announcing he was withdrawing from the lieutenant governor campaign. That resignation took on a taint of tawdriness as many were offended that he would make the announcement in a tavern (on Super Bowl Sunday) with his young son at his side.

Instead, he wants to take “high-minded” stances on issues, and perhaps give us more of the “job creation” rhetoric that (along with the $2 million of his own money that he spent on campaign advertising) led to his Democratic primary victory.

Some might think he will hurt Democrat Quinn. I doubt it. I think the people who are inclined to not vote for Quinn have already made up their mind to find someone else to cast a ballot for.

NOT THAT I’M saying he’s going to take down the Brady campaign. I think many of the ideologues who are inclined to want to back that campaign are going to take one look at Cohen and be incredibly repulsed.

In short, I don’t think Cohen will have much of an effect on this election cycle. He could wind up being the most prominent candidate ever in Illinois politics who barely gets 1 percent of the vote.


EDITOR’S NOTES: This is the way Forrest Claypool views himself, while this is how many potential voters view him.

Republicans want to fantasize about Scott Lee Cohen becoming a serious campaign issue, even though he’s more likely to remain an afterthought in this year's gubernatorial campaign.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hard to feel sorry for Alexi or Bill

Political observers watching Illinois are getting all worked up over the fact that Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias’ family business officially went under on Friday. Yet a part of me is more offended at the way in which Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady is trying to make it appear that he’s being open about his own finances.

Friday was the day that the FDIC officially shut down the Edgewater neighborhood’s Broadway Bank, which was unable to come up with $85 million to cover its financial obligations. The bank, when it opens Saturday, will be a branch of M.B. Financial Bank.

PEOPLE WITH ACCOUNTS and deposits there will not lose their money, on account of the guarantees the federal government provides in such situations involving failing banks.

But it adds to the image of Giannoulias, whose father founded the bank that is currently run by his older brother, Demitris, as just another greedy business type whose failings wind up getting bailed out by the taxpayer. In short, the political partisans will say, we wind up paying in order to ensure that the Giannoulias family isn’t bankrupted personally by this situation.

Now I’m not about to go on the defense for Giannoulias. He’s a big boy, and he and his campaign staff had better be capable of getting themselves through this situation. After all, being a United States senator would place him in equally pressured situations.

If anything, his handling of this “crisis” may very well show us once and for all whether he has what it takes to be in such a prominent political position.

BUT THERE IS a part of me that can’t help but think that much of the “outrage” expressed about Giannoulias whenever the subject of the family “bank” comes up is so phony. People whose partisan beliefs are such that they were going to express outrage about Alexi no matter what he had done or what the circumstances are.

Even if his bank were doing well financially, they’d likely be equally outraged and claim that somehow being a “banker” made him incapable of identifying with the public. Of course, many of these same people didn’t have any qualms about voting for a “banker” for the U.S. Senate in 1998 when Peter Fitzgerald was the Republican nominee for that post.

But Fitzgerald was willing to give them the partisan rhetoric they wanted to hear on social issues (abortion, gay rights,etc.), while Giannoulias is not.

I can think of one positive from this. Insofar as the campaign is concerned, I hope Giannoulias realizes he has to quit talking about his family bank as though it were just a tiny business.

TO LISTEN TO Giannoulias during this campaign, you’d think Broadway Bank was a family-run Greek restaurant – almost as though we could walk in, see a mural on the wall incorporating the Parthenon and order the “Greek chicken” while watching Alexi himself work the cash register.

Perhaps now we can get a more honest accounting of what occurred at Broadway Bank, rather than the constant string of “organized crime” tales that the Republican partisans are eager to spread.

What is really going on here is a bad economy that is hurting many business interests, including the Giannoulias “family business.” Broadway Bank was not the only Chicago-area bank to be closed on Friday, nor was it the biggest. I’m not saying I feel sorry for bankers or for Giannoulias. But I do realize it is ridiculous to demonize them.

I also wonder if Fitzgerald himself feels fortunate that his family sold their suburban Chicago chain of banks way back in 1994 – providing the family with its wealth and putting Peter in a position where he doesn’t have to worry if something will go wrong and his “bank” will be the next to fail.

BUT LIKE I wrote earlier, I am more offended at the way in which Bill Brady conducted himself on Friday. For after realizing that his refusal to provide the basic financial information about himself by releasing his income tax returns (a standard act for aspiring political types) was making him look like a fool, he decided to act in ways meant to create the illusion that he was being open.

If it seems to you like I’m implying we know where Giannoulias stands while we don’t have a full picture of Brady, you’d be correct.

I think that because of the conditions that got placed on Brady’s announcement. It was by one of those telephone conference calls, and restrictions were placed on the number of people who could call in. That is a condition I have never heard applied before.

In all fairness, the Illinois Republican Party sent an e-mail informing me of the telephone number to call if I wanted to have a chance at being one of the “few” to be able to talk with Brady’s attorney (not Brady himself). Of course, I didn’t get it until after the event began. So it was a moot point.

SO I HAVE to settle for the written summary put together by the Republican partisans, where we learn that Brady paid no taxes to the federal or state governments in 2008, and only paid taxes to the state in 2009.

We also learn his adjusted gross income was only one-quarter of the level it was at in 2004 and 2005, which Brady says is because his own business interests have faced economic troubles. Of course, Brady tries to spin this by saying he had to put employees out of work as his business interests shrank.

Excuse me for not being swayed. That line of “spin” strikes me as being the equivalent of Alexi portraying the bank as being yet another family business going broke. There is something about this handling that strikes me as being too secretive. Most political people write up the press release and include a copy of the return, and leave it at that. Nice and simple.

By going to such extremes to control the release of this information, Brady has made such a bigger deal out of this than it ever should have become. That really does bother me as much as, if not more than, anything that happened on Friday on North Broadway.


Friday, April 23, 2010


Perhaps it is a sign that I am not technologically curious, but I never would have thought to search for what turned out to be a glitch that makes public many details that federal prosecutors wanted to keep secret in the criminal case of Rod Blagojevich.

Attorneys for the former Illinois governor on Thursday filed the paperwork requesting that President Barack Obama be subpoenaed so as to force him to appear for the defense at Blagojevich’s trial – likely to take place this summer and fall.

WHEN THE U.S. attorney’s office made copies of the motion public, prosecutors went so far as to “black out” several portions so as to make them unreadable. The document includes allegations related to Blagojevich’s criminal case, and claims of why Obama himself would have personal knowledge that would be considered relevant.

Because these are allegations and not fact, they could be considered damaging to personal reputations.

But anybody is now capable of reading these things because of a glitch I don’t quite understand (although I am sure there are technologically-oriented people who could explain it to me in great detail).

But try calling up the document, then defining it and copying the content into a Microsoft Word document. I did just that, and all of a sudden, all of that blanked out copy turned into bold-faced type.

I CAN NOW read every word, including the parts that the U.S. attorney’s office didn’t want me (or anyone) to see. I know I am not alone in doing this, because I became aware of this glitch by reading the website affiliated with the Capitol Fax newsletter.

I am sure that many hundreds of the newsletter’s readers will do exactly what I did, and they are probably scouring every hidden word for all the little tidbits, which Capitol Fax publisher Rich Miller describes on his site as, “the most explosive allegations.”

I am not about to go through what the content was of those blacked-out provisiions of the document that anyone can now read, mainly because anyone who truly cares can “read all about it” elsewhere – and probably from someone who will put their preferred political “spin” on the material instead of my preference, which would be a more rational analysis.

But this moment is going to stick in my mind because it is such a gaffe for “the feds.” What good is it going to do them to “black out” portions of the material when any amateur can undo their “editing” on any computer?

THE QUESTION I have is whether or not someone will wind up losing their job because of this – or will a mere suspension suffice as punishment for the federal employee who is supposed to understand computer technology enough to do such editing, yet couldn’t figure out that the redacting could be undone so easily?

In my time as a reporter-type person, I have come across the occasional gaffe by law enforcement types while in the comission of their jobs. It happens. But none seem so clumsy or awkward as this moment.

This moment alone will put the Blagojevich trial in the ranks of one of the most unusual political corruption cases ever held in Chicago. I’m only hoping that this gaffe doesn’t somehow get construed as tainting the case to the point where any resulting verdict gets overturned – and we would wind up having to go through this whole prosecutorial circus all over again.

Not that I expect Blagojevich would have any problem doing a repeat. Turning these proceedings into a raucous mess would work to his advantage. Anything bizarre might have the effect of making Blagojevich’s behavior during his six years as Illinois governor appear to be the norm – particularly if that jury (likely) will get filled with people whose intellectual curiousity is such that they go out of their way to ignore the activity of state government.

AFTER ALL, MAKING things bizarre is why one would want to drag Obama to the Dirksen Building to be put on the stand and have to testify about what he knew – particularly related to the activities in Illinois to replace him in the U.S. Senate.

Make this a case about Obama, and Blagojevich becomes irrelevant and acquitable. If the prosecutors get their way and are able to zero in on Milorod and define on their own terms what is (and is not) appropriate, then Blagojevich goes down – along with his brother and all the other people facing criminal charges in this case.

If anything, Rob Blagojevich is the one I sort of feel sorry for. He is going to have to go through a trial with his brother and will be such a minute part of the case, yet in the end he probably will be regarded in public as being an equal.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy. Those are the presidents named by Rod Blagojevich as having been defendants in civil cases prior to becoming president. Which attorneys for Rod Blagojevich say justifies their dragging Barack Obama into court to testify in their client’s criminal case.

I stand by my past thoughts that there is nothing Obama could contribute to this criminal case, other than turning the proceedings into a legal freak show.

Roland rails against virtual Wall

Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., is keeping himself busy this week, using his participation in a Senate committee hearing to question whether or not the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a “virtual wall” along the U.S./Mexico border has been a waste.

Burris and Sen Joe Lieberman of Connecticut were the two most outspoken critics in Washington on the issue. It seems Roland wants to do something to get himself noticed for his partial term in Washington.

I WILL CREDIT Burris for showing a little bit of sense on this particular issue, even though I realize he has nothing to lose by speaking out because the rest of his life is going to be spent in retirement back in Chicago.

This site’s sister weblog, The South Chicagoan ( offers up more details about Burris’ activity.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

EXTRA: Quinn won’t tax downloads

Broken by the Chicago Sun-Times, and killed off by the Chicago Tribune.

At least that is how it appears on the Internet with regards to Gov. Pat Quinn’s suggestion that downloads of pop music and movies ( could be taxed to raise revenue for government.

IT IS NOT the most ridiculous concept in the world. But it is not about to happen. The Tribune reported Thursday (one day after the Sun-Times played it up big on Page One) that Quinn is now saying the idea was merely a suggestion, and not something he’s committed to backing.

So now, we can focus attention on an increase in the state income tax (the subject of a staged rally outside the Statehouse this week that attracted some 15,000 people), which is an idea that will have even less popularity than getting the financial deadbeats who blow all their spare money on iTunes to fork over a few cents per purchase to the state – which is already done in 19 other states.


iTax protests to create digital headache

There are those who are trying to push the idea that history occurred Wednesday with the tens of thousands of people who showed up outside the Statehouse in Springpatch to express their support for the Pat Quinn-proposed budget balancing plans that include significant tax increases.

I don’t buy it, because I know better. I am very aware of how scripted Statehouse rallies can be. The real tax fight that we should pay attention to may be one that is already taking place. It is the one that people who use the Internet to do their shopping will fight – because they are going to claim that one of their “God-given rights” (I always wondered if their “God” was Bill Gates) is being threatened.

I AM WRITING, of course, about the report in the Chicago Sun-Times that got picked up Wednesday by countless media outlets – one that says the state wants to start applying their sales tax to every single time some kid spends $0.99 on iTunes to buy a song that he then downloads to his iPod.

At the state’s current tax rate, that is about $0.05 per song. But those nickels add up.

They will pile up even quicker for those people who purchase downloads of movies that they can then watch on their computer.

The simple fact is that all those purchases of entertainment by people who prefer to purchase content for whatever electronic device they carry around with them instead of purchasing a physical disc that can be watched over and over and on multiple players (a compact disc or DVD) are going untaxed these days.

THE COMPANIES THAT are selling these downloads contend they are not local companies that should have to worry about parochial taxes. And I’m sure they will argue that it is too complex for them to have to apply the tax rate of every single state or nation around Planet Earth to which they sell their “product.”

What I do know is that the people who prefer buying their entertainment this way consider the lack of taxation to be one of the perks of this method of purchase.

So in the same way that some people think that newsgathering organizations are absurd for thinking that they should be able to charge any kind of fee for access to their websites (“information should be free!,” they will self-righteously argue), they’re going to claim that “taxation” of their downloads of the latest Lady Gaga song or dull-witted Will Ferrell film (although I must admit to enjoying his performance in “Anchorman”) is immoral.

Perhaps the Tea Party types can recruit more members enraged at government for daring to think that a music purchase can be taxed. At least some Republican legislators are going around saying that kids will revolt, and perhaps get their parents to vote against the political people who tried to impose this dastardly deed (heavy sarcasm most definitely intended) of a tax.

NOW I AM not a big fan of taxation (especially after having to compute my tax returns and figure out how much I owe to the government off of my erratic income as a freelance writer). But it is one of those obligations we have to help support our society.

Which is why I think these people are not showing us some legitimate moral cause. They’re just being cheap – like those people who come up with long, convoluted reasonings why they won’t tip the waitress, instead of just reaching into their wallets and coughing up a buck for the woman who busted her butt while serving them a cup of coffee.

I don’t really have a problem with the concept that buying a song off a compact disc is the same as buying one off a digital download, even though officials with TechAmerica Midwest told the Sun-Times they think that an Illinois tax on downloads would inadvertently hurt sales, which would wind up with less-than-anticipated revenues from such a tax.

I might have an easier time buying that line of logic if it weren’t for the fact that Indiana and Wisconsin already have imposed such a tax, as have 17 other states.

SO THE REALITY is that Illinois, instead of somehow threatening to take away the right to untaxed music that these kids think they have, is really lagging behind.

What gives Gov. Quinn?

Why wasn’t this idea looked into before now – a time when our state’s financial problems threaten not only its own operations but those of all the local governments and school districts across the state that rely on state funding to help pay for some of their operations and programs.

I can’t help but think of people who get worked up over this tax as being cheap and ridiculous.

WHEN THEY START flooding Quinn’s office with their e-mails and text messages (probably more of the latter), I’m wondering how outrageous the digital rhetoric will be.

Then again, with the fact that most of the kids who insist on using these as their primary methods of communication can’t spell worth squat, my real question will be whether any of these “complaints” will be at all comprehendable.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Emanuel for mayor? Fat chance!

Somewhere near the District of Columbia, long-time Washington writer Sally Quinn is feeling a touch of glee. For it seems that silly column she wrote a few months ago that said White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel wanted to be mayor of Chicago has a touch of truth to it.

Back then, Quinn wrote in a commentary about Desiree Rogers that implied too many Chicago political people work in the Obama administration that Emanuel was looking for a way out, figuring he’d run for mayor if Richard M. Daley were to decide that he doesn’t want another four years in the 2011 municipal election.

SHE PROBABLY IS the only one pleased. For Emanuel came out this week and said the same thing, using an interview on Charlie Rose’s PBS program to say that “one day” he wants to run for mayor. He made it clear during that interview that he’s not looking to challenge Daley – Emanuel would only run if Daley decides that 22 years in office is enough.

There are those political observers who want to believe that it just might be the case for Daley, who in recent years is getting hit with the same financial struggles that are afflicting municipal officials across the United States.

When combined with the constant instances of corruption and all the other petty aggravation that a mayor has to deal with, they would say that Daley is ready to say, “the heck with it.”

Of course, those people are usually of an ideological bent that doesn’t fully comprehend Chicago or Daley. Either that, or they have never understood how “Dumb-Dumb” Daley ever got elected to begin with. So their talk that Daley is ready to retire reeks of self-interest on their part.

SO I EXPECT Daley to run for another term (extending his time in office beyond that of his father, the late Richard J. Daley, who later this year will be surpassed by his son as longest-serving Chicago mayor), which makes any talk of Emanuel returning to the City Hall scene a moot point.

But what of the idea of “Rahm-bo” returning to Chicago after doing time in the White House? I don’t buy it, mainly because I understand the reality of “up and out.”

That is the phrase used by Chicago political types to refer to local political people who decide to run for a federal government position – usually a seat in Congress. It acknowledges that the federal government technically outranks Chicago city government, while also feeding into the parochial belief that Chicago is the center of the world.

Which means that Emanuel, by not accepting the limits of his political life in the city and desiring something “better” in Washington, is supposed to accept the idea that he no longer belongs here. He is there. What makes Roman Pucinski so unique in Chicago political history is he is one of the few Congressmen who successfully came back to Chicago (to serve several terms as alderman).

HE MAY HAVE to accept that his current job as the man who does the dirty work to make the Obama administration function and achieve all of its high-minded goals is the high point of his career – which has accomplished things that many local political people can only dream about.

It is in that niche that Chicago political observers look to Washington these days and to the large number of Chicagoans working with Obama at the White House and feel a touch of pride. We’d like to think that the successes achieved there reflect well upon our city.

And as for the political failures? We realize that Republican opponents don’t know any better, which is why we have so few GOP-types in Chicago.

The problem is that if Emanuel decides to try to return to Chicago, he’s going to find that all the people who had respect for him and admired him (and even those who detested him, while secretly being pleased he was on their side) will now suddenly detest him and despise him openly.

THE REASON FOR that change of attitude? A lot of local political people who figured that Emanuel got out of the way of their aspirations when he went to Washington will now see him as a threat.

And Emanuel will find out that Chicago political people who think their turf is being threatened can be even more mean and nasty than any of those nitwit Republicans who currently trash his good name in and around Washington, D.C. I'm wondering what kind of reaction he will get on Tuesday when he speaks at the Daley Forum to be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

So Emanuel should not be fooled by the polite words offered up by Daley’s press secretary to the Chicago Sun-Times, who said that Emanuel’s mayoral aspirations are a, “laudable aspiration.” If he actually tries to run, we’re going to hear all the political trash talk meant to take him down before he can ever re-establish himself as a Chicagoan.

Rahm will wind up recalling his nasty campaign for Congress in 2002 against former state Rep. (and Chicago Park District attorney) Nancy Kaszak as a pleasant memory between two friends. (Remember the anti-semitic claims that Emanuel was really an Israeli – therefor not a “real” American?)

IF THERE WAS anything I found interesting (and realistic) about Emanuel’s comments, it was his admission that his dream to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was “over.” So much for the talk that Emanuel was privately scheming to take back the Northwest Side congressional seat he used to hold so that he could resurrect that dream.

Giving up on the concept of “House Speaker Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.” Is a sign that Emanuel has a touch of reality to him. Realizing that “Chicago mayor” is equally unattainable for him is the next step that Rahm has to take.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The two Chicago metro newspapers should send Charlie Rose a nice gift for him giving them ( their story for the day (,CST-NWS-sweet20.article) out of Rahm-land.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

These crazy weekends of violence also are a part of the character of Chicago

Chicago lost at least nine residents Sunday as part of one of the most unfortunate aspects of the city’s character – the occasional outbursts that take place in some of the less visible neighborhoods of our city.

We didn’t have a mass murder or severe accident take place. What we’re talking about is one of those weird convergences that results in a few incidents taking place almost at the same time that throw our city’s crime rate out of whack.

WHAT ALWAYS GETS to me about these weekends, when they occur, is that the incidents are limited to the same neighborhoods. It’s as though we are too accepting of the fact that some people have to live their lives in fear of violence.

By comparison, there also are other neighborhoods where the thought of one violent crime taking place within the local boundaries would be considered a crime wave of historic proportions.

Somebody dies in Englewood? That’s just the way things are. A shooting in Sauganash? That concept is so alien – I don’t know the last time that Sauganash on the Northwest Side had a slaying.

I do know that Englewood on the South Side was one of three neighborhoods where incidents took place that involved people being shot. It was a neighborhood that had multiple incidents. It is part of the reason that the Chicago Tribune reported 7 shot in Chicago on Sunday – then had to use the website Monday morning to update two more people who got shot in the final two hours of the day.


That is not a typical Chicago weekend – no matter how much some people who weren’t fortunate enough to be born and raised here want to think so, we don’t get constant mayhem in all corners of Chicago.

In fact, the number of incidents has declined significantly since the days when I was a reporter-type person for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. Back in the late 1980s, I can recall a city that averaged 2.5 murders per day, and where the “violent weekends” could easily see 20 or so people get killed.

By comparison, only two of the nine people who were shot Sunday wound up dying. That almost makes it sound like this was a not-so-untypical weekend after all. Except that there is something rather wrong about having to think about such violence as being the “norm” that we live with.

NOW I AM not naïve. I realize that whenever one lives in a place with so many people concentrated in one spot, there are going to be more outbursts than one would see if one lives in a place with few people. In short, small-town life.

That concept is just too isolated for me, and I would guess for many of you people who identify with the city of Chicago. So I suppose it does come down to being one of urban life’s trade-offs – albeit one that is sad.

So for those people whose view of Chicago gets restricted to the north lakefront, my point is to throw attention to the neighborhoods of Englewood, Lawndale and Little Village. The latter usually gets its annual moment of attention on or about May 5 when city officials hold the official local Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The other two neighborhoods usually only get their annual moment of glorification on this day when they are the scene of the violent outbursts that some people sarcastically like to think are the evidence of the coming of nice weather.

AFTER ALL, IF people who live in these neighborhoods aren’t cooped up inside anymore to escape the cold, it is only natural they are going to behave badly.

I hope the sarcasm with which I repeat that attitude comes through in full. Because that’s the kind of negative attitude that I’d like to think is unbecoming of our city.

But it is with an attempt of drowning out such a negative attitude that I bring up the names Jerel Love and Amos Dailey Jr. I have never written about either man before, and now I will never get a chance to write about either again. Neither one made it out of their 20s age-wise.

What makes them significant is they are the two men who were shot Sunday night, and were pronounced dead at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. The Chicago Tribune reported that police think the two men were shot while sitting inside a car as some sort of act of retribution for a streetgang-related incident.

OF COURSE, LOVE’S sister claims he was not a gang member, and in fact worked to try to keep young people out of streetgangs. Which means there probably is no logical reason for what happened Sunday night.

Not that there was any more logical reason for the shootings that took place in other neighborhoods around the city – which left people in conditions ranging from “good” to “serious.” So the next time one talks of the character of Chicago and starts focusing on the Hancock Building, we ought to remember this other, more sobering, part of the city character.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Many of the shootings that took place Sunday and left nine people either dead or injured ( seem so random, as though ( stray gunfire just naturally flies through the Chicago skies looking for unaware targets.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Obama/Palin political ‘tiff’ lays out nation’s partisan split all too perfectly

We have got a new political “controversy,” courtesy of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who wants us to think that President Barack Obama said something extremely controversial when he spoke recently about our nation’s foreign policy obligations.

She’d like for us to think that Obama said something so incredibly radical that it ought to perfectly illustrate why he was never fit to be a government official of any sort, let alone president.

ALL SHE REALLY did, however, was illustrate the difference between the factions that too many of us fall into when it comes to partisan politics these days.

For the record, Obama made his “controversial” comment at a press conference that brought the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington to a close. He took a question from a reporter-type from Bloomberg Business News who wanted to know if Obama thought he had gained any political “capital” that would give his thoughts more influence in international affairs.

Part of his answer was: “It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because, whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower. When conflicts break out, one way or another, we get pulled into them.”

That has Palin ticked off, and she used a weekend Washington “appearance” (as in the Illinois town of just over 10,000 people who think of Peoria as the nearest significant city – and which could wind up being the closest that Palin will ever come to setting foot in Chicago) to denounce him. She particularly hates the portion of his line that referred to “whether we like it or not.”

ACCORDING TO THE Associated Press, Palin said, “I don’t understand a world view where we have to question whether we like it or not that ‘America’ is powerful.”

A part of me wants to say she misinterpreted him. But I also have been around enough political types to know that most of them usually do know what a political opponent truly meant – they just don’t care. Palin’s intent was to ratchet up a political point, and she succeeded.

That AP blurb got picked up in newspapers across the country. Which means it turned up on the websites of all those newspapers. Which means it is now all over the Internet. Which means that every nitwit with a desire to comment (including myself) is now making an issue of this.

But when I look at what Obama stated and what Palin retorted, I can’t help but think that this moment illustrates the partisan split that has afflicted our society.

OBAMA WAS TALKING about the U.S. obligation related to our role in the world, while Palin was talking about the U.S. perk related to that same role.

Obama gave a response making it clear that he views the U.S. foreign policy as being a responsibility that our nation must live up to. For if we fail in our obligations, the potential is great for small problems in other parts of the globe to become big problems, and ones that are reaching enough that we get dragged in anyway.

It is a view that says there are consequences to the actions of the United States government. We can cause problems beyond our borders. Which means we need to express a certain caution when we act. We can’t act recklessly, without regard for others.

Now such a thought process definitely offends the isolationists of the world. Because they’d like to think we can cut ourselves off from the interests of other countries. I’m sure they hate the suggestion that we have a responsibility to other parts of the globe – which is the price we pay if we want our nation to have the moral high ground when dealing with international affairs.

YET PALIN’S CRITICISM comes from another perspective.

She likes the idea of the United States having that influence because she likes the idea of being on the side that gets to tell people what they must do. Those isolationists usually are the conservative types who would be inclined to prefer someone ideologically aligned like Palin.

She is appealing to them by trying to say that our nation’s foreign policy is about being in charge when we see it in our interests. But the idea of an “obligation” being thrown into the mix bothers her (and them) because it means there will be occasions when they will be forced to confront issues they aren’t comfortable with.

Heck, it means there will be times the United States will have to throw its weight behind people whom they would prefer to ignore.

EXCUSE ME FOR thinking that this kind of thought makes Palin and her followers the equivalent of the old schoolyard bully, who wants to be able to do what he wants and when (while also having the ability to ignore whatever things are too troublesome).

Which makes me wonder if we ought to truly think of the Obama opposition these days as being those old bullies merely being miffed that life has passed them by, and they’re desperately trying to grasp onto the days when they could “muscle” people into doing what they were told – regardless of how stupid the order was?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Barack Obama talks about our nation’s obligation to the rest of the world (, while Sarah Palin enjoys the thought of being able to give out orders when it suits her whims ( or desires.

Politics and partisanship have been financially rewarding during the past year ( to both Obama and Palin.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Campaign wants to live in its own world – Is that reason enough to vote ABB?

I read Friday of a new feature on the website maintained by the Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper – one where readers can set things up so that reader comments from people who bother them will not turn up when the check out the website.

There are those who think it is a scary trend of the future. People can isolate themselves so thoroughly from anyone who does not agree with themselves that they can literally pretend the opposition doesn’t exist – and have that false belief reinforced by their “newspaper.”

BUT AS ONE who has watched political campaigns in recent decades, the idea of political people going out of their way to ignore the opposition is not new at all.

While the point of any political campaign is to persuade as many supporters to turn out and vote while discouraging opposition members from bothering, the trend these days is for campaigns to behave in ways that are meant to solely appeal to the supporters.

Because, after all, the opposition doesn’t really exist. So why bother catering to them, or doing anything meant to appease them? You might run the risk of turning off the people you are counting on to be your campaign’s ideological base.

The classic campaign in that mode when it comes to electoral politics in Illinois is the 1998 bid of Peter Fitzgerald for U.S. Senate.

FITZGERALD WAS A state senator who didn’t exactly have the most likeable personality, and he wasn’t the least bit blue-collar (his family owned a bank, although they managed to sell and become significantly wealthy long before economic conditions would put him in a situation similar to what is being endured these days by Democratic Senatenominee Alexi Giannoulias).

He wasn’t someone who could really relate to the masses. If Fitzgerald had been let loose to commingle amongst the Illinois population, there’s a good chance that Carol Moseley-Braun’s more charming personality would have prevailed.

So Fitzgerald was kept under heavy wraps, rarely exposed to any unsynmpathetic questioning, and would usually schedule his campaign “events” before crowds that were so controlled that they were ideological purists who were determined to dump the “stain” of anyone representing Illinois who wasn’t exactly like them.

Fitzgerald won that election, and got his one term in the U.S. Senate, where his not-so-likeable personality and a lack of interest in acting in ways to appease party leaders wound up resulting in him not seeking re-election.

NOW WHY AM I bothering to recall any of this?

It is because when I see and hear the recent actions and statements of GOP gubernatorial nominee William Brady, I can’t help but think he too is behaving in ways that are meant to get the party ideologues all worked up.

And if it means their campaign strategy is to keep the state senator from Bloomington a mystery to the bulk of Illinoisans – gambling that they won’t really care about if him if they don’t comprehend him fully – then so be it.

That probably is why many Republican partisans will now start deliberately ignoring the talk of former Gov. Jim Edgar, who in recent weeks has said he thinks Brady is wrong in thinking he can cut his way out of a $13 billion financial shortfall faced by Illinois government.

THAT IS WHY Brady probably will confine himself to events with the character of the recent Chicago tea party rallies he attended this week. He will claim he is introducing himself to Chicago, but he is picking an event so out of the character of the city’s mainstream that he’s really showing us how isolated he truly is from our city and its character.

It’s not just this issue. It’s also the matter of the income tax returns.

At least that is how I interpret Brady’s insistence that nobody has a right to see his income tax returns – despite the belief among many that people who seek political power ought to be a little more open than the typical Joe Schmoe in letting us know where their money comes from.

That is why many elected officials spent the past week making copies of their returns available. Usually, reading through these forms makes us realize that while these officials have significant goverrnment salaries, they don’t have much else. They really are living off that money – which they can lose at a moment’s notice come the next election cycle.

GOV. PAT QUINN, who says we will be allowed to see his returns sometime next week, is trying to hammer away at Brady – who claims that letting us see his full returns would give us so much information that his ties to certain businesses would be hurt.

Such stubbornness by Brady gives Quinn an issue to bang away with. But I’m sure Brady is going to go out of his way to appear only before crowds who are determined to have Anybody But Democrats win on Election Day, so they will ignore Brady’s attitude – even though I’m sure these same partisans would bash away at any Democrat arrogant enough to think that personal business connections were worth keeping secret.

Advice to Brady (although I’m sure he will ignore it): If you’re really serious about being governor, maybe you have to give up some of those business connections that your economic disclosure report hints at, but does not fully detail.

If you’re not willing to do that, then perhaps that is reason enough for the people of Illinois to vote ABB (Anyone But Brady) on Nov. 2.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Will William Brady keep himself isolated this campaign season among ideologues determined ( to ignore criticisms ( of the way he conducts himself?

If this were available in Illinois, we’d probably have people using it to avoid having to be made aware of this ( particular commentary.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Quick turnabout for state canoe promoter

It was nearly two decades ago when Pat Quinn was challenging then-Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan for his position when he came up with a “hit” that he thought would be devastating.

While looking through print-outs of information from data put together on computer by the Secretary of State’s office, Quinn kept noticing the line “VIP Connected,” which he interpreted to mean that this person was a “Very Important Person” who was politically “connected.”

WHAT UNMITIGATED GALL on the part of Ryan, Quinn thought, to include in official state records which people were political allies of his own. What a misuse of state resources. He went on the attack with a blistering press conference.

All these years later, I forget what “VIP” really stood for -- other than that it was a bit of computer jargon indicating that someone was “connected” to the secretary of state’s computer system. Which means that by trolling through the data, anybody and everybody was “VIP Connected.”

It took Quinn about an hour that day before he had to “take back” his political accusation of Ryan. The resulting stories that got published in newspapers across the state made him look buffoonish.

Kind of like what Quinn went through earlier this week – although personally I must confess that I am not offended by Quinn’s intent.

AT STAKE IS the fact that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources hired someone for a significant position that was intended to be very prominent. The salary, according to news reports, would have been $85,000.

The job would have gone to Claude Walker, a 57-year-old political operative who in recent decades has worked for Quinn just about everywhere he has gone (state treasurer and lieutenant governor, along with his various political campaigns for U.S. senate and Illinois secretary of state). For all I know, he helped plan Quinn’s “VIP Connected” attack on Ryan.

Because of Walker’s past record and because the new position was meant to be an extremely public post, Quinn went so far as to issue a press release, along the lines of, CLAUDE WALKER TO BE STATE’S FIRST CANOE ‘CZAR.’

“Canoe czar?”

OR, AS REPUBLICAN political types who are looking for whatever necessary to nitpick at Quinn during this campaign season “Canoe Czar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

What an incredible waste of money at a time when the state has significant financial problems that no one has a clue how to resolve, and that are likely to impact local governments and school districts all across Illinois (since they rely so heavily on state grants to fund many of their own programs).

The backlash (along with headshaking from Democratic “allies” who were wondering something along the lines of “What was he thinking?” and “Where’s the Tylenol bottle?”) was severe enough that Walker’s appointment did not last through the day.

The Capitol Fax newsletter used its weblog to report that Natural Resources Department officials rescinded the hiring, at the request of Quinn.

AND NOW, ALL over the Internet, there are several places where people are posting comments about what a clueless boob our governor is for even thinking about such a position at this time.

Now as I wrote earlier, I am not overly offended by this move. The idea was to create a position that would help promote how Illinois is outdoorsy enough for people who enjoy kayaks and canoes to use them.

Illinois’ natural resources extend beyond the merely polluted Chicago River. You don’t have to get in the car and go off to Michigan to enjoy the outdoors. And it seems that Walker himself enjoys kayaks to the point that he was thought to have enough personal knowledge to talk about this issue.

Plus, did you catch earlier where I said Walker is a long-term Quinn ally (albeit, one who has been off the state payroll in recent months, ever since he quit a job with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission)?

IN SHORT, THE position fell under the general category of promoting tourism and recreation. If Walker could turn his personal passion into something that caused people to spend more time and money within Illinois’ borders (instead of heading for surrounding states), then it was something that could generate revenue in the long-run.

It falls under that category of, “You Need to Spend Money in Order to Make Money.”

Of course, the legislators who were quick to jump all over Quinn prefer to use that alternate cliché: “You Can’t Spend What You Don’t Have.”

So I guess this is a tourist-promotion opportunity that will have to wait for some future moment when the state manages (how I don’t know) to stabilize its financial picture.

PERSONALLY, I REALLY have only one gripe about this – the idea that this position would have been called a “canoe czar.” I hate that.

I hate this ridiculous trend to declare these types of positions “czars,” instead of coming up with real titles for them. Whether we’re talking “canoe” czar or “drug “czar,” I think it trivializes the matter.

For if Walker were truly a “czar,” he’d still have the job. At the first sign of dissent, he would have used his “authority” to have his critics (or any Quinn critics, for that matter) put in front of a wall and shot by firing squad.

It sounds a little extreme for a guy whose job would have been to make public appearances at outdoorsy events and talk about how much fun kayaking can be.


EDITOR’S NOTES: State officials initially tried to justify the new kayak/canoe promotion position by saying ( the salary would be paid for through money from special fees.

Only Ken “the Hawk” Harrelson could have dismissed Claude Walker more abruptly than state officials did ( on Wednesday. Perhaps Claude ( has another book in him someday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Judge’s ruling exposing child to religions too theoretical to work in real world

When I was a student at a college loosely affiliated with the United Methodist Church, I had a “religion” requirement to fulfill. I chose Religion 105: Introduction to Judaism.

It is a course I remember fondly. The reform rabbi who was imported from an area synagogue to teach the course had a humorous personality that could get serious when appropriate (such as joking about the holiday Tu B’Shevat, while becoming more solemn with regards to persecution throughout the centuries). I REMEMBER ONE issue where he got serious – the whole issue of inter-faith relationships and how they affect children. I specifically remember him saying that the idea of a Jewish parent and a non-Jewish parent saying they will expose their children to both faiths, then someday let them decide what they want to believe, just doesn’t work.

Too often, it becomes a choice of a child being made to feel like they have to “pick” a parent to respect – at the expense of the other. Despite anyone’s best intentions, that is what the situation ultimately becomes.

So Rabbi Jerry Stone, wherever you happen to be today (I haven’t heard from him in over 25 years), I only wish you could have somehow been in a Chicago courtroom this week when a Cook County judge issued what I’m sure she thinks is a “common sense” ruling that a father who nominally is Catholic can take his young daughter to Mass – even though the girl’s mother who is Jewish has the legal custody of the girl and is trying to raise her in that religious faith.

This ruling has the potential to create one very messed up young girl – who right now is only 3 and likely doesn’t have the comprehension level required to truly understand what is being put forth before her.

THIS IS A case where adults are supposed to look out for a child’s best interests. All I can see is that they are failing her, big time!

Based on news reports that have come out of this particular case, the couple in question were married for four years before splitting up. It also seems that her Jewish faith was much more important to her than Catholicism was to him.

He went through the motions of converting to Judaism so they could have the Jewish wedding service she wanted. In accordance with Jewish teachings, a child’s primary religious influence is the mother, which means I am sure she is convinced it is only natural her daughter should be raised Jewish.

When she got primary custody (with the father getting occasional visits), that would seem to make it clear this particular girl was going to be raised in the Jewish faith.

BUT AS OFTEN happens with divorce proceedings, bitter feelings can result in actions that can be perceived as hostile.

At least that is how the mother took it when she learned that her daughter was taken by her father to a church and was baptized. She learned about it because the father took pictures of the act (that is meant to cleanse the soul of sin) and made sure that she saw them.

I’m sorry, but that just strikes me as being spiteful. It strikes me as being an un-Christian act to want to rub this issue in her face, even though I’m sure the father will say publicly he merely wants to share his religious beliefs (the ones he nominally gave up in order to be married to a Jewish woman) with his daughter.

It strikes me as a father trying to stake his claim on a girl who will be spending the bulk of her life with her mother. When you think about it rationally, that’s just mean.

WHICH IS WHY I can’t help but think that Judge Renee Goldfarb this week reinforced that meanness by overturning an order that prevented the father from taking his daughter to church any longer. That order is the only thing that kept the girl from attending an Easter Mass.

Goldfarb gave permission for the father to take his daughter to church when she visits him, and also put in stipulations that she must visit him on Christmas and Easter. Of course, the judge also wrote in provisions giving the daughter to her mother on Rosh Hoshanah, Yom Kippur and Passover.

That is going to be one extremely-holiday-ed kid, being bounced back and forth like a yo-yo by parents who seem to want to gain the upper hand over the girl.

Now I’m not writing this out of any sense that the child is better off being Jewish (although I’m sure my step-mother, Cathy, would disagree – many of my nephews and nieces are being raised as Jewish). If the situation were reversed and the Catholic parent were the one with custody, I’d be as concerned about a Jewish parent trying to use religion to gain an upper hand.

BUT THAT IS the bottom line.

We have two people who have issues with each other, and in their attempt to one-up each other, they’re taking it out on their daughter. So much for the idea that a parent is supposed to protect their child from such mind-games. And for the idea that the courts are supposed to intervene when things get out of hand in our society.


EDITOR’S NOTE: A part of me wonders if it is appropriate for us to pray, regardless of our religious denomination, for the girl ( whose life is likely to become chaotic being bounced back and forth between religious faiths.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ROLAND, ROLAND, ROLAND: Trying to end his career on a “high” note

Roland Burris is the man who likes to say he began his public life by desegregating the public swimming pool in his then-hometown of Centralia (he and his teenage friends showed up one day and just jumped into the pool that previously had been for white people only).

Now that the 72-year-old Burris is approaching the end of his public life, he seems determined to make an even bigger splash on behalf of political empowerment for African-American people.

FOR BURRIS IS telling that insiderish newspaper on Capitol Hill (called The Hill) that he wants President Barack Obama to pick a black person, preferably a woman, to the vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States that will be created with the upcoming retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens.

In fact, Burris says he is spending his time these days “working on” a list of experienced legal people who happen to be African-American and female, and that he plans to use his political influence with the president to get him to take the idea seriously.

Quit laughing! You know you are.

This sounds to many of you like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, possibly even worse than that one they actually aired last year where Kenan Thompson’s ignorance of the difference between running for multiple offices and multiple terms for the same office came up with one incredibly lame punchline coming from the mouth of “Burris.”

WILL WE SOON get Thompson once again giving us a Roland Burris, pompously sitting in his office putting together a list that no one other than himself will pay any attention to?

Actually, I should be a little honest. It isn’t even Burris putting a list together. It is his congressional staff. He has researchers to do the heavy lifting of digging up details to back up his arguments onvirtually anything – which, to be honest, all political people do.

Which is why I think those people who want to mock Rod Blagojevich for not knowing how to do basic research or use a computer are missing the point. He got elected to his political posts because of his “vision,” which basically means he wasn’t George Ryan – while Jim Ryan and Judy Baar Topinka were perceived as being too close to George.

And Milorod, in his final political act, gave us Burris, who is now trying to influence the choice of a new Supreme Court justice. Does this mean that a black woman justice on the Supreme Court could be perceived indirectly as Blagojevich’s lasting mark on our nation?

ALRIGHT, MY SARCASM there hung even more heavily than anytime Sarah Palin opens her mouth in public these days. But while I will concede there are less productive things Roland Burris could be doing with his time these days, the idea that our one-time attorney general with the incredibly ornate mausoleum already erected in his honor is trying to single-handedly pick a Supreme Court justice is worth more than a chuckle.

Then again, maybe it is something in the Washington air.

Because if one pays attention to the news reports emanating from the District of Columbia, there is talk coming from various political people about who Obama should choose for the life-long appointment to the nation’s high court.

There are those who are convinced it must be a woman. There are others who think it must be a protestant (because there is potential for a high court with nothing but Catholic and Jewish people).

SOME THINK IT should be a fairly conservative white man (because we don’t have enough of those in positions of authority), while others think Obama should make one blatantly partisan nomination during his presidency – instead of catering to people who would never vote for him in an election anyway.

I even read one report Tuesday morning from people who think the time has come for a Supreme Court justice who is gay and feels no need to cover that fact up.

So maybe in that environment, the image of Roland Burris sitting in his office, reading through research put together by his staff to make a statement about how the high court needs a black woman to go along with the Latina and the Jewish woman already on the court isn’t totally absurd.

Now I’m not going to claim to be an expert and say I know who Obama will pick. It could be someone with ties to him through Chicago, but I also wonder if he’d rather save that potential pick for a time when the confirmation process isn’t going to be such a blatantly ugly battle.

THEN AGAIN, MAYBE someone exposed to hard-core Chicago politics is exactly the kind of person who could handle the Senate Republican caucus’ hardest shots?

So what of the idea of an African-American woman, to boost the number of black people on the high court to two? What would Clarence Thomas think of such a colleague? To me, the idea makes as much sense as any of the other trial balloons being tossed about.

I couldn’t help but notice the “reader comments” published by The Hill along with their story about Buris’ desires. One reader who does not like Burris’ idea wrote, “you have your African-American justice: learn to appreciate him.”

Perhaps we should be fortunate he didn’t use another word instead of “African-American.” But to me, the idea that such people could be so offended by the idea may be reason enough to not dismiss Burris so lightly.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Roland Burris takes some credit for recognizing the skills and appeal of Sonia Sotomayor ( in an effort to bolster the chances that anybody will listen to his Supreme Court opinions this time.

Does Burris want to end his political career ( with another Saturday Night Live sketch “appearance?”

A former state Supreme Court justice from Georgia who also happens to be a black woman is on some versions ( of Barack Obama’s “list” of potential nominees. Would Burris accept her? Or is Leah Ward Sears too friendly with Clarence Thomas for Roland to be comfortable?