Monday, May 31, 2010

Did Kirk inflate resume just like Plummer?

I’m starting to wonder if Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady is looking at the people he is paired with on the GOP ticket, and is shuddering at the thought.

It was earlier this year that we learned that lieutenant governor nominee Jason Plummer had such an overloaded resume for a 27-year-old because some of his accomplishments were exaggerations – ie: claiming internships as jobs, military experience that has yet to occur, etc.

NOW, WE’RE AT Memorial Day with the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois having to confront allegations that he’s claiming military accomplishments he never really achieved.

Does that make the modern-day incarnation of the Illinois Republican Party the equivalent of the 20-year-old kid who works overnight at a 7-Eleven convenience store, and claims during future job interviews that it was a “management” position because he worked alone on that shift?

Mark Kirk, who has kept his position within the Naval Reserve even as he has served the past decade in Congress as the representative from the North Shore suburbs, has had to deal with reports that came out ever so conveniently in time for this holiday weekend about a claim on the resume – one that said he was once named Intelligence Officer of the Year.

He had claimed the award was for his work with the Navy during military actions in Kosovo.

BUT NOW THAT people are looking more closely at the Kirk resume, it seems that officials are saying it was another reservist who received that particular designation – although there also are awards by the intelligence community given out at regional levels.

Kirk is now claiming that it was his entire unit that received an award from the National Military Intelligence Association, which means he won something known as the “Taylor Award,” which doesn’t sound as imposing as the wording his resume used to reflect.

How seriously should we take this, considering that resume inflation is way too common. I remember when I used to have a reporter-type position that occasionally required me to interview prospective interns, I used to routinely find puffery in resumes meant to make someone sound much more impressive than they truly were. It is to the point where I have weeded through my own resume to eliminate as much puffery as possible, in hopes that it would make me stand out from the crowd that I’m not trying to feed a lot of bull to a potential future employer.

I’m sure such personal promotion happens everywhere. Somebody wants to present their best side, and it usually is someone who thinks highly enough of themselves to begin with that they decide in their minds that such overstated rhetoric isn’t that big a deal.

THAT CERTAINLY IS the approach the Kirk campaign is taking, sending out a statement by e-mail on Sunday meant to downplay the significance of this whole thing.

It is playing off the Washington Post report this weekend that acknowledged the newspaper learned of Kirk’s resume inflation from people who have an interest in promoting the campaign of Democratic challenger Alexi Giannoulias.

This is a lame trick by the political opposition, they want us to believe.

How else to explain a statement that begins with the headline, “’Mob Banker’ who never served attacks decorated Naval officer’s distinguished service record.”

WHICH MEANS THIS was probably a last-minute rewrite of the political cheap shot the Republicans had planned to make public for Memorial Day – Mark Kirk has served in the military, while Alexi Giannoulias has not.

That statement makes such rhetorical flushes as, “while Mark Kirk wore a U.S. Navy uniform, Alexi Giannoulias wore a basketball uniform in Greece” (he played one year professionally for Panionios) and “while Mark Kirk was supporting electronic attack missions over Iraq, Alexi Giannoulias was partying in New Orleans at Tulane Law School.”

What was supposed to be a hard-core partisan shot across the bow of the Campaign Giannoulias to get all those military veterans ticked off enough to vote against him was turned into Kirk having to justify that he really did serve in the Naval Reserve.

It also makes us wonder how much of the rest of his background is inflated. Are we going to find more things? I’d hope not. I’d rather this become a campaign based on issues, even though that is probably a naïve statement on my part.

THESE RHETORICAL FLOURISHES wind up becoming the issues, which means we will have to spend valuable time in coming months trying to figure out which candidate is lying to us less when they tell us about their life’s accomplishments.

So while the Kirk camp tells us that the candidate’s military record, “should not be denigrated by a 34-year-old media-dubbed ‘mob banker’ who has never served our country in uniform,” I wonder if it should be denigrated by a resume padder (which I think says something about someone’s character if they’re that insecure about the bottom-line truth).

More importantly, I wonder if at least a few of those people who served our country in uniform and died to preserve our society are rolling over in their graves at the thought that these two are the best that the major political parties could come up with to run for one of the highest political posts in the land.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Did Obama pick bad time to visit Chicago?

There are those of us Chicagoans who have been getting on the case of President Barack Obama for not continuing to spend time at his Hyde Park neighborhood home, or anywhere in the Chicago area. So you’d think that his decision to have the family spend the Memorial Day holiday weekend “back home” would cause the criticism to pipe down.

Forget it.

BECAUSE NOW OBAMA is getting criticized by people who think that Memorial Day is one of those moments that he OUGHT TO BE REQUIRED to be near the District of Columbia.

Specifically, there are those people who are upset that the president of the United States will not be participating in the Memorial Day ceremonies to be held Monday at Arlington National Cemetery – the place where many veterans of every military conflict our nation has ever engaged in are buried.

We’re hearing the political rhetoric that the president is showing disrespect to the military – even though his plans for Monday include spending some time at a military cemetery.

It just won’t be “ARLINGTON, Va. – “ as the dateline on Monday’s news coverage of Obama. Instead, we’ll get the ubiquitous “ELWOOD, Ill. –,” which is the home of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, which is having its 11th annual Memorial Day ceremony – albeit the first ever where a sitting president has bothered to show up.

IT SOUNDS TOO much like people who want to think the whole of our society revolves around the District of Columbia (which is a nice place to visit for a few days at a time, although somewhat depressing if you actually have to live there) can’t accept the fact that there is a “rest of the country” that also will be observing the holiday this weekend.

The presidential appearance is, at most, a few seconds observed on television, in between the segment about the local holiday parade and the line of scores telling us how the White Sox managed to botch another ball game.

Should we really get worked up that Obama had included on his schedule for the national holiday that pays tribute to those who defended this country a ceremony at a place named for a president who held the nation together at a time when forces tried literally to split it into two?

To me, that sounds more appropriate than being in a place that was once the home estate of a military leader who rejected Lincoln’s pleas to work with him in holding the nation together, and was willing to join forces with those who would have torn it apart.

NOW THOSE OF you who have Confederacy apologist tendencies, don’t get worked up. Not yet anyway. Because the people who are all upset that Obama would use a Chicago-area cemetery (Elwood is located on Interstate 55 just past Joliet) to honor soldiers and Memorial Day are not the ones who bother me the most.

What really ticked me off was when I learned of the fact that some people in our society are so miffed about Obama using Will County, Ill., for official Memorial Day tributes that they were planning their own counter-protest, so to speak.

We’re not quite talking about the Ku Klux Klan, but we are talking about the kind of people with racial hangups that they join groups that feed off much of the imagery and nit-wit philosophy of white supremacy.

If they had got their way, we’d be having a counter-protest at a rural site just south of Mokena, Ill. (one of those towns that comprises the outer fringes of the Chicago area).

THINK ABOUT IT, if you will.

A sitting president wants to come to an area cemetery to pay tribute to those who served their nation, yet these activists who like to think they are “real Americans” and “true” patriots find that act to be offensive.

So much so that they talk of holding a rally to express their disgust with the very thought that Obama would think himself worthy of paying respect to military people.

I guess racial hangups overcome patriotism, although I’d argue such hangups are probably what is most “un-American” about these people.

WE SHOULD BE thankful that the owner of the site where these people wanted to hold their rally (officially being billed as “Nordic Fest” to give it an ethnic flair, even though I suspect most of these people have no true concept of what they really are or where they originated from) changed his mind and revoked permission for his land to be used.

Then again, reports in the Herald-News of Joliet indicate his big reason for revoking permission was that he didn’t like the nasty publicity that was being derived. All of those “liberal, out-of-touch-with-society” reporter-types were calling him to ask about the “Klan” rally being held on his land.

Otherwise, Will County literally would have become the place on Monday where the white supremacists protested the fact that a president would pay respect to military dead.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Who’s backing whom? Does it matter?

Call it an intriguing week, if you will, for Alexi Giannoulias.

The White House (which many political pundits is determined to believe will snub the Illinois Democratic Party’s nominee for a U.S. Senate seat) is sending in several supporters who are meant to help Giannoulias come up with the campaign cash he needs to be competitive – while also gaining some public attention for his political bid.

YET THE BULK of the attention this week went to the man who said his support of Giannoulias is less than overwhelming. Ask the typical person who follows electoral politics what happened to Giannoulias this week, and we’re likely to hear the rhetoric about how he got dumped on by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill.

Now I don’t mean to underestimate the significance of the congressman from the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs admitting publicly he has enough respect for Giannoulias’ biggest opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that he could consider publicly endorsing him.

Both Jackson and Kirk serve on an appropriations subcommittee that gives them a say over foreign policy issues. I find it encouraging that men from the South Side and the North Shore can work together and not automatically fall into the partisan rhetoric that is espoused as hard-and-fast fact by too many people in this country.

But I do not expect Jackson to ever go any closer to a Kirk endorsement than the rhetoric he spewed this week.

FOR ONE THING, I can’t help but think that Kirk wants a direct tie to Jackson about as much as he wanted one to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Be honest, the “votes” that he had to be present for in Washington the night she was in suburban Rosemont weren’t that significant, and he could have missed them.

Jackson is likely to have his name dragged through the mud this summer, should the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich proceed as planned. Republican operatives are counting on the concept of “guilt by association” dragging down the re-election campaigns of many government officials across Illinois.

If Jackson were to actually endorse Kirk, my response would be to watch to see how quickly Kirk formally renounced such a tie – unless he’s willing to tick off the social conservatives whom he is counting on to be his political base (many of whom worry that Kirk isn’t really ideological enough for their taste).

Excuse me for wondering if a formal Jackson endorsement of Kirk could be the biggest favor Jesse Jr. could do for Giannoulias.

BUT THERE IS another factor at work that makes me think this situation isn’t such a big deal – the fact that the people who actually comprise the political backing that allows Rep. Jackson to have any influence whatsoever (otherwise, who’d care who he wants to be U.S. senator?) are never going to back Kirk.

While I understand that a formal endorsement for Kirk would mean that the political workers who do their bidding at the behest of Jackson, Jr., would not be able to work their precincts on Giannoulias’ behalf, it’s not going to result in significant votes for the GOP.

Besides, I also remember the recent past with regards to Jackson, whom the political pundits like to point out was a backer of Barack Obama who made it possible for him to serve in the U.S. Senate, then have a credible political operation in Illinois that made it possible for him to beat the Democratic presidential candidate – Hillary R. Clinton – who was supposed to be unbeatable.

What I remember was that in the early moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, the “controversy” from the Illinois Second Congressional District was the Jackson split.

JESSE, JR., SUPPORTED Obama, while the congressman’s father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, had his reservations about the man from Hyde Park. That was a significant part of the rhetoric from early in the campaign that Obama wasn’t “black enough” to win the African-American vote, which wound up swinging overwhelming to him and remains a significant part of his support today.

Heck, we all remember the image from Election Night, with tears running down the face of Jackson the elder at the realization that he had lived long enough to see an African-American male be elected chief executive of the federal government.

My point is, he got over it. Somehow, I think Jackson, Jr., will get over his hangups too, particularly since he felt the need earlier this week to say that he doesn’t really oppose Giannoulias for the office.

So what we got this week was a whole lot of rhetoric from the Jackson camp, which seems like something we ought to expect every election cycle.

THAT IS COMBINED with announcements that during the month of June, Education Secretary (and former Chicago Public Schools chief) Arne Duncan, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s deputy, Jim Messina, and Obama’s presidential campaign Manager David Plouffe (author of the campaign diary “The Audacity to Win”) all will be in Chicago for fund-raisers on behalf of Giannoulias.

In the case of Duncan, he also will do a public press event – meaning that the federal government will somehow try to share credit with Giannoulias for some acccomplishment on behalf of public education.

If anything, we ought to wonder why the White House feels the need to lay on so much support this early in the election cycle. That is a more signficant question to debate, rather than trying to figure out if Jesse Jackson, Jr., really likes Mark Kirk more than Alexi Giannoulias.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Expulsion from the caucus? What a joke!

I saw and heard a lot of rhetorical nonsense during the seven years I spent as a reporter-type person at the Statehouse in Springfield, but none as ridiculous as the rhetoric flying about now by Republican partisans who are ticked off that they were unable to prevent their Democratic colleagues in the Illinois House from approving a borrowing plan to help pay the state’s pension obligations.

The measure to approve borrowing required a larger majority than the size of the Democratic caucus. Which means the only way the measure could approve would be if some Republican members of the Illinois House were willing to go against the GOP stance.

THAT APPEARS TO be what happened. The measure got the bare minimum votes for a 60 percent majority – with two retiring Republican representatives, Bill Black of Danville and Bob Biggins of suburban Elmhurst, voting “yes.”

That is why some political people in Springfield are seriously trying to push the notion that Biggins, at least, is some sort of traitor, and the Republican minority in the Illinois House may go so far as to expel him from the caucus – which would mean he would not be included by the party leadership in any negotiations they have.

Somehow, I doubt anyone with any sense is losing sleep over this possibility. In fact, the only people who think that expulsion is a realistic option are the ones whose partisanship is so intense that it clouds their better judgment.

Both of these legislators are long-time members (Biggins since 1993, Black since 1986) who have made it clear that they are not seeking re-election this year. Their time in the Illinois Legislature is coming to an end.

SO PERHAPS IT means they have nothing to lose by being sensible enough to consider such a borrowing measure – rather than take some hard-line ideological stance whose purpose is to prevent anything from being approved this year by the General Assembly.

Which would result in a long-time financial problem continuing on for another year because of a failure to act.

What amuses me about this expulsion talk (which late Tuesday was encouraged by Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego) is that it all is focused on Biggins. No one is seriously talking about doing anything to Black. Party officials have come up with a lame justification saying that Black admitted to them prior to the vote that he might side with the Dems – whereas Biggins did not.

Of course, Black is the legislator with the outspoken demeanor who has proven he will say anything he believes. If the Republican leadership seriously tried to say they were going to expel Black, he’d tell them where to shove their political caucus.

THERE ARE THOSE people who are pointing out that Biggins met with with aides to Gov. Pat Quinn. Some are even trying to claim that Biggins has been promised some sort of political appointment or other government job after he leaves the Legislature – should Quinn get re-elected come Nov. 2.

Biggins denies such talk, telling reporter-types, “I asked for nothing.” Quinn also on Wednesday denied offering Biggins anything. For the time being, I’m going to believe them, although it would not shock me if a future Quinn administration were to give Biggins some special consideration.

It may very well come down to Biggins deciding that he had nothing to lose since his 18-year legacy as a low-key state legislator from west suburban DuPage County is set.

I’d like to think he saw the need to address at least some of the financial problems that threaten to drag Illinois down into the depths, rather than focus on how those problems could be turned into a negative for the political opposition.

SO WHILE I can appreciate why some people are concerned that Illinois would set itself up to take on $3.7 billion in debt (that is a LARGE loan), I also realize that the time has come to put aside partisan politics and ensure that legally required contributions to the state’s five public employee pension systems are actually made.

Those debts have been creeping up on Illinois for years, if not decades. It is time that someone be willing to take a political action that might break for the norm – even if one way this issue can be spun is that it shows some competence on the part of Democratic officials when it comes to the actual act of governing this state. Of course, this could all fall through rather quickly, since the Illinois Senate is showing great reluctance to give its own approval to what the House of Representatives did.

In fact, if there is anyone whose vote I find offensive, it is the “present” vote cast by Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley. Early on, he indicated a willingness to vote for the measure. On the final vote, he couldn’t bring himself to support it, but also wanted to be able to say he did not oppose it because that would make him out to be nothing more than a political hack.

Hence, he gave us the political equivalent of taking up space and wasting oxygen. I would have respected him more if he had just voted, “no.”


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How many presidential possibilities would dare to take a stance on a casino issue?

Something to keep in mind the next time you read a list of possibile presidential candidates for the Republican Party come 2012 that includes the name of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels – he is the political person who took on an issue that most elected officials wouldn’t have dared to touch, and he took the stance that could be spun into him supporting cheaters.

Daniels is going to get national news coverage because of a commencement speech he gave during the weekend, and for the fact that he didn’t back away from his comments on Monday.

DANIELS HAS BECOME the governor who supports a gambler who has been banned from a southern Indiana casino after being caught counting cards while playing blackjack. I can’t envision any of Illinois’ chief executives (not even Rod Blagojevich in one of his goofiest moods) being willing to touch this issue.

That gambler was caught back in 2006 at the Grand Victoria Resort and Casino in Rising Sun, Ind., on the Ohio River across from Kentucky and not far from Cincinnati. His act was that he is capable of keeping track of the cards being played in blackjack, making it possible for him to have a strong sense of which cards are likely to come up – which could help him keep his cards under 21.

That gives him a better chance of actually beating the house, which usually has the odds of winning stacked in its favor against the gambler.

Card counting will get you banned from the casinos of Las Vegas, where the courts in Nevada have ruled them to be private property whose owners can restrict certain people from coming. But in New Jersey, a card-counter was able to get the courts to overturn an attempt by the casinos in Atlantic City to ban him.

I GUESS THAT means the Indiana gambler is hoping that the Hoosier State is more like the Garden State than the Silver State.

His case against the Grand Victoria was rejected by a circuit court, but the ban from the Grand Victoria was overturned by an appellate court. That means the Indiana Supreme Court now has the case, and is expected to rule on it some time later this year.

Most political people would have figured there is nothing to gain by saying anything about this. Take the side of the gambler and you are offending a financial interest that many of these small towns that host casinos absolutely depend upon to bolster their local economies.

But who really wants to get that wrapped up in appearing to favor the casino interests – who exist to take money from people in such a flashy and garish manner that they think they’re being entertained by losing.

ALSO, CONSIDERING THAT Daniels was supposed to be providing an inspirational moment to the graduating students of Franklin College, which isn’t anywhere near Rising Sun, I can’t say I comprehend his motivation for bringing up the issue. I don’t buy his “logic” about how this gambler was taking the initiative to “shift the odds” of life in his own direction.

Yet he did, and he came down on the side of the gambler, saying he sees the controversial practice of card counting as evidence that this particular gambler is “inordinately smart.”

The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, Ky., also reported that Daniels described the gambler’s card counting skill as one where, “through hard work learned to improve his chances.”

So Daniels apparently thinks it is good politics to tick off an industry that government has become too dependent on financially for survival. It makes me wonder how sympathetic they’re going to be toward his next re-election bid.

OR, IF DANIELS truly does decide to make a run for president someday, is he going to be the candidate whom the casinos of the country line up against? That’s some significant money that could wind up backing a Daniels opponent – all because he felt the need recently to speak out on this casino issue.

Or is he going to be the guy who stood up for the “rights” of a guy whose intent upon entering the casino in Rising Sun that particular night was to take them for every cent he could get – using a means that wasn’t exactly available to everybody?

Either way, Daniels had the potential to take a stand that was going to be described in less-than-complimentary terms. Which is why he likely would have been better off keeping quiet on this issue.

He’d have had a better chance of reaching concensus among sports fans about whether or not steroid use by ballplayers constitutes “cheating” and whether or not Sammy Sosa deserves the ridicule he now receives in many circles.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Supreme Court issues ruling against Chicago in legal case (no, not THAT one)

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled against Chicago city government in a case that will have national impact with the way local governments conduct themselves.

No, the high court did not rule on the case challenging the ban on firearms ownership within the city limits. Monday’s unanimous ruling relates to the fire department, which was sued by several African-American firefighters who took the written examination to qualify for promotions – only to have the city suddenly try to impose a higher score on the exam to actually qualify.

THAT RESULTED IN most of the firefighters who got promotions during the 1990s being white people.

Those black firefighters had filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, and along the way it was tossed out by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago on the grounds that the firefighters waited too long before beginning their legal fight. The law says such a lawsuit must be filed within 300 days of the act alleged to be improper.

Attorneys for the city argue that the first legal action was filed 430 days after the test results were announced. In short, the merits of the case were ignored because of a technicality – which is common in court fights.

But in issuing a unanimous ruling on Monday, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the high court that the lawsuit could be heard on its merits. They said that each promotion that relied on the test results extended the time period.

WHICH BASICALLY MEANS that Scalia found a technicality that allows the lawsuit to be resurrected from its death due to legal technicalities.

The end result is not that anybody is going to get promoted now. It merely means that the lawsuit can be brought up again in the courts at the Dirksen Building. Which means it will be years before anyone actually gets anything resembling financial compensation because they were denied a promotion.

It also means many more years of legal bills being incurred as the city has to resume its defense of the fire department’s decade-old conduct.

Now a part of me is discouraged that my home city is going to get hit with legal bills estimated to run into many millions of dollars. I’m sure that some politically-partisan people will find it hilarious that a Democratic-leaning city such as Chicago gets whacked with such high legal bills.

BUT I DO derive some pleasure out of the fact that this court ruling by the Supreme Court helps to ensure that a ruling eventually is made on the merits of the issue – which is just how relevant those written examinations ought to be when it comes to these public safety agency promotions.

Monday’s court ruling wasn’t a surprise, since reports from a few months ago when arguments were heard by the high court indicated that the justices publicly expressed their concerns about the city’s conduct.

What is involved in this case is the examination given to prospective fire department officers. Typically, anyone who scored 64 or better was considered to have “passed” the examination. But after the exam was given, city officials then imposed a higher standard of 89 – saying they were not likely to promote anyone who scored less than that, even though they techically passed the exam with a lower score.

The result of that change was that only 11 percent of firefighters who got promoted as a result of that examination were African-American (in a city where black people account for just over one-third of the total population).

TO MY SENSIBILITIES, this appears to be changing the rules in the middle of the process. So Scalia’s ruling that the lawsuit needs to be resurrected and heard in court would seem to be an obvious one.

But this case will tick off those people who were celebrating last year when the same Supreme Court ruled against New Haven, Conn., for the way in which they used test results to determine firefighter promotions.

In that city’s case, the fire department tried to ignore test results that would have resulted in a disproportionate share of white firefighters qualifying for promotion. The Supreme Court said that act was improper, and the kind of people who want to ignore racial and ethnic factors in hiring wanted to believe that they had achieved a major victory.

No more of this messing around with test results, which should be absolute – they say. If the end result is fewer black public safety officials, perhaps it is just evidence they weren’t qualified for the job.

THAT KIND OF narrow-minded logic is warped in that it ignores the harm that can be caused when a public safety agency doesn’t bear some resemblance to the people whom it is protecting.

Now, we have a case where black firefighters in Chicago are likely to have to receive some financial compensation (even though I’m sure the legal fees being wracked up will wind up consuming most of whatever financial judgment or settlement is ultimately approved to resolve this case).


Monday, May 24, 2010

Blackhawks creating an athletic jolt for Chicago that varies from fan to fan to fan

Confession time. I’m not much of a hockey fan.

So I am not one of these people who got all ecstatic on Sunday at the thought that the Chicago Blackhawks qualified to play in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 18 seasons, and have a serious chance to win their fourth National Hockey League championship ever in their 84-year-history.

NOW I CAN follow what happens on the rink. I have been to a few hockey games in my life (ironically enough, never a Blackhawks game), including one when I was a kid at the old International Ampitheater involving the now defunct Chicago Cougars. When also considering that these men are trying to maneuver about and play a sport while also skating on ice (something I’m not good at), I can respect what they do.

But there was just something about hockey that always left me cold. Literally. I can’t help but always think that these guys ought to come in out of the cold, then go out and play soccer come spring (I’m looking forward to the World Cup tourney to be played later this year).

A part of me thinks that hockey should have long been finished with its season and championship playoffs, instead of still creating ice to play on until nearly the beginning of summer.

But I am not blind to the emotions of those people around me, those Chicago natives who see how often our professional sports teams are capable of playing like cattle droppings. So the idea of seeing a sports team actually make it to the championship round is just too irresistable for them to latch onto.

THE BLACKHAWKS QUALIFIED for the Stanley Cup finals by beating the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, and may have to wait an entire week now before learning who they will play.

The Philadelphia Flyers could clinch their spot in the finals as soon as Monday. Or, we could get the ultimate comeback story in athletics this year, should the Montreal Canadiens actually drag their playoff series out to a Game Seven on Friday.

I have to confess, a part of me would like to see that happen (even though I will now incur the wrath of Philadelphians). For I wouldn’t mind seeing something resembling an “old school” athletic championship.

There is something about the idea of two “Original Six” teams making it to the championship that is satisfying. How much more “old school” can one get than Chicago versus Montreal (perhaps Montreal versus Toronto, but not much else).

WHICH MAKES ME wonder. If the Canadiens were to make it, who would be the underdog. The Canadiens are a storied franchise with many great moments, players and championships. But they haven’t done much lately. They haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993, while the Blackhawks haven’t played in the finals since 1992.

As much as some people get a kick out of the story of the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise, there might be others who would prefer to see the resurgence of Montreal as a significant hockey entity.

I couldn’t help but notice the tease on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated that asks, “Is Montreal for Real?” Which some will argue means that the Habs are jinxed.

Then again, the actual cover story was about soccer’s popularity around the world – showing children in Angola kicking about a ball in the middle of a street. Somehow, I think real football’s place in sports is too strong to be taken down by the so-called cover jinx.

AT LEAST IF the Philadelphia Flyers make to the Stanley Cup finals, the Blackhawks would be the undisputed favorite. I can’t envision anyone seriously enjoying the thought of a Philly championship. Why do you think so many people were overjoyed to see the New York Yankees take the World Series last season?

But whether the Stanley Cup this season winds up Chicago/Montreal or Chicago/Philadelphia, for many of us here in Chicago it is going to be about seeing whether the Blackhawks can put an end to what is the longest current streak for a team without winning a Stanley Cup title – 49 years, and counting if the Canadiens/Flyers somehow manage to win.

I’m sure the hard-core Blackhawks fans can rattle off the details of the Stanley Cup champions of 1934, 1938 and 1961, to which they would like to add the year 2010. Personally, I had to look it up to find out that the 1938 champions remain to this day the Stanley Cup winner with the worst regular season (14-25) record.

For others of us, it is about seeing such a title as the completion of the resurgence of this franchise that some people once wanted to believe was dead and meaningless to the local sporting scene, and where it literally took a death for the rebirth of the team to begin.

FOR SOME OF us, it will be about painting their faces red and wearing those baggy hockey jerseys that do such a wonderful job of covering up how big our girths have become in recent years – mostly from doing little more than sitting around watching professional sports events on television.

Personally, I will be hoping that the Blackhawks can put to rest the talk of how their franchise never wins anything. As of Sunday, the odds on the Blackhawks winning the whole thing were at 2/5.

And with the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup, the whole country now gets to be treated to what arguably is the best official theme song of any sports franchise in this country.


It has been 49 years since Topps issued this card depicting Chicago's last (to-date) major league hockey champion.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

High court appeal gives feel of Blagojevich trying to avoid trip to “death house”

Perhaps it is a sign that I covered too many executions in Illinois (7 during the 1990s, along with other inmates who appealed the process). But watching Rod Blagojevich file an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States to try to postpone his trial on assorted corruption charges is starting to feel like watching a condemned man try to find any scheme that manages to postpone his “death date.”

It is inevitable when a condemned inmate’s execution date approaches that his attorneys run through the process of filing token appeals to every court up the judicial ladder, in hopes that somewhere, someone with some legal authority will be moved enough by the plea to justify issuing a stay that postpones a trip on the gurney to the lethal injection machine.

THAT TRIP UP the legal ladder invariably winds up at the Supreme Court in Washington, where attorneys will file after-hours appeals and judges will wind up having to put in some extra duty before deciding whether or not there is any chance of legal merit to the condemned’s position.

In fact, the justices on the nation’s high court have the country split up so that each presides, so to speak, over a region. In short, it comes down to what one man thinks, and is willing to tell his (or her) colleagues on the high court what to do – since there really is little reason to have all nine justices read through the last-ditch appeals.

That is what occurred to me when I read the Chicago Tribune report that confirmed Blagojevich’s request for a delay in his trial was received late Thursday, and was sent to the chambers of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Which means that on Friday, it was Stevens’ clerks and other staff who were having to read through all the legal drivel offered up by Milorod as to why his trial should not begin in 12 days in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois (otherwise known to us locals as the Dirksen Building).

THOSE CLERKS WILL report to Stevens, who will make the ultimate decision. Late Friday, Stevens said he would give prosecutors one week to respond in writing to Blagojevich's request. Does this mean Stevens’ last act as a Supreme Court justice will be to decide whether or not to condemn Blagojevich to a trial this summer that many people are convinced will result in his serving time in a federal correctional system (and which many Republican partisans are hoping sentences Democratic political candidates to death on Election Day come Nov. 2)?

After all, guilt by association, they will claim.

Blagojevich’s legal motion for a trial delay has just has the same morbid overtone to it that many of the last-ditch legal appeals from condemned inmates have. There is a sense to people who follow the cases that everything has already been argued, and that this final appeal to the Supreme Court is nothing more than a formality before giving the condemned man (it has been so long since Illinois put a woman to death that I don’t think it sexist to say that all the condemned are “men”) his final sendoff.

Which means we all now sit and wait for word from the court. It likely will be a sudden snippet of rejection, followed up hopefully by the sight of Milorod seriously preparing himself for trial.

IT MAKES ME feel like the next step will be someone asking Blagojevich what he would like to have for a “last meal” before the moment of truth. Will he have any last words for us?

Actually, on that last point, the answer is, “yes, he will.”

For the federal trial is likely to last into October. I wouldn’t be surprised if jury selection lasted most of the month of June (got to weed out anybody whose ideology is so intense that they feel it is their “patriotic duty” to Illinois to convict the bum) and the jury deliberations for a verdict lasted several weeks. You just know Blagojevich won’t be able to resist taking the stand on his own behalf.

Which is why I am sure that the same Democratic Party partisans who were Blagojevich’s biggest critics and led the effort to impeach him from office probably wouldn’t mind if there was some delay that put the trial off until after those Nov. 2 elections.

BLAGOJEVICH CONTENDS THAT we need to see how the Supreme Court rules with regards to the legal appeals of former Hollinger Inc. owner (which once included the Chicago Sun-Times and its many suburban newspaper properties) Conrad Black in a case that challenges the degree to which stupidity and incompetence by officials ought to be considered criminal behavior.

Considering that I have always thought Blagojevich’s conduct as governor was more about arrogance and stupidity (trying to show other Democratic Party leaders, such as Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who the boss truly is) than truly criminal intent, it might be relevant. But I’m sure there are enough people who are going to be so willing to show they’re not showing a bias in favor of Blagojevich that they will bend over backward to oppose him.

Personally, I wish the two events (a likely Blagojevich verdict in late October, and Election Day on Nov. 2) weren’t so close together timewise because it is a ridiculous distraction, although I am not convinced that Stevens or anyone else with the Supreme Court will be inclined to do anything on Milorod’s behalf. Then again, I think most of the people who will think this is relevant are also the same types who would never have voted for Democratic Party candidates to begin with. Which means it is an irrelevant distraction.

It also means we can likely keep that June 3 date circled on our calendars for the beginning of the Rod Blagojevich Reality Show (follow the legal saga of a real-life political egomaniac) emanating from Chicago.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Daley “humor” obscures gun ban argument

There is a certain knack possessed by Chicago’s long-time mayor. It’s not just that Richard M. Daley makes the occasional malaprop, but he can totally overcome the message he was truly getting at.

The moment I most remember is one that came early in his time as mayor, when Daley was at a press conference about expansion at a children’s hospital, and took a question about capital punishment that included the statement, “I’m pro-death. Let’s get on with it.”

BUT DALEY MAY have topped that Thursday when he was trying to appear to be defiant in the face of what many people want to believe is the Supreme Court of the United States’ likelihood of striking down the nearly three-decade-old laws that ban handgun ownership within the Chicago city limits.

On a serious note, Daley said he would push the City Council to pass an alternate version of a gun ban – if the current one is found to be unconstitutional. But for many people, Thursday is going to go in the books as the day that Daley threatened to shoot a reporter in the buttocks.

I’ll give him one bit of credit. At least this time, he kept on topic. But his press secretary is putting it mildly when she tells the Chicago Tribune that his phrase was, “less than ideal.”

For the record, Daley was asked by a reporter-type whether or not the city’s gun ban had been at all effective. The firearms crowd likes to argue that the continued presence of crime in Chicago means the gun ban has been a failure.


“It’s been very effective. If I put this up your butt, you’ll find out how effective it is,” Hizzoner Jr. said, while brandishing a firearm that had been confiscated by police. “That’s why you want to get them out. You want to get these out.”

That statement is going to overcome his comments about how the Supreme Court might experience a change of heart in coming weeks and wind up ruling in favor of upholding the city’s ordinance that has been in place since the days of Jane Byrne.

On a certain level, it will be regarded as evidence that Daley still has Sout’ Side in him. It may have been a couple of decades since he has actually lived in the Bridgeport neighborhood, but he still has that willingness to say something so ridiculous that some people will want to view it as the ultimate example of “common sense.”

I THINK IT is just the mayor having a brain cramp. But it will change the tone of the coverage of Daley’s statement, which was starting to turn into serious diatribes trashing the mayor as being “out of touch” with society.

One could argue that it is those people who are out of touch with the majority of those people who live in urban society who are skeptical of the notion that someone packing a pistol is going to effectively be able to do anything in the event of an attack – other than wind up shooting themselves.

Yes, if you have not figured it out yet, I am one of those people who thinks the fact that some in our society are so willing to accept the idea that the Supreme Court is destined to strike down the will of the city when it comes to firearms is the truly sad commentary on where we as a people stand today.

So I was encouraged by the early reports of Daley saying the City Council will find some other way of restricting access to weapons. I’m curious to see what the actual ordinance winds up looking like. But it has the potential to make for spirited debate this summer.

BECAUSE I’M SURE the gun proponents are going to want to view their viewpoint as inevitable (instead of a remnant of the past centuries). They are going to resent the fact that the majority will of the city will dare to try to put them back in their place, so to speak.

I would like to think that we would know better. But I also have seen enough as a reporter-type person for the past two-plus decades on assorted issues to know that the worst-case scenario is just as much a possibility as the idea that people will do the right thing.

Which makes me wonder if the long-term fate of this issue will be yet another lawsuit that works its way up through the judicial system to again bring the issue before the Supreme Court in some future year?

That future Supreme Court fight on the issue could be ridiculous enough that it may someday overcome the absurdity of Daley this week threatening to shoot a reporter-type person in his derriere.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry & Will are going to “choose sides” come Nov. 2

The reality of the upcoming general elections come Nov. 2 is that they are going to be decided in the land we often call the “collar counties.”

That’s not exactly a bold prediction on my part. Some people might say I’m merely stating the incredibly obvious – such as pointing out that the Chicago White Sox do NOT wear white socks.

BUT FOR ALL those people who want to talk about political revolutions and serious shifts of the thought process of the people across Illinois, the reality is that most people in this state will vote in predictable manners – and in ways that are completely in line with the way they previously have voted.

Considering that Barack Obama’s popularity rating ranks significantly higher in Illinois than it does the rest of the country (the Gallup Organization on Wednesday gave him a 49 percent “approval” rating nationally, with 45 percent disapproving), much of the rhetoric is about political people trying to convince themselves that everything they want to believe isn’t a whole batch of hooey.

Chicago and Cook County is going to vote for Democrats. People here (just as in 1994, the election cycle that gave us Newt Gingrich and the “Contract with America” that many Republicans want to believe is repeating itself this year) aren’t going to be as swayed by the same rhetoric that people in the rural parts of the state will be.

Why else would Democratic Cook County Board president nominee Toni Preckwinkle feel secure enough on Wednesday saying she won’t rush to repeal the sales tax increase that outgoing President Todd Stroger enacted during his time in office? The mood of the “angry electorate” may want to repudiate everything Stroger-related and go so far as to erase him from county history, but one-time state Sen. Roger Keats of the North Shore isn’t going to be able to use that as an issue against her.

OF COURSE, THE result of eight years of Democratic Party control of Illinois state government is that the rural parts that remain loyal to the Republican party get ignored. The few rural districts that have elected Democrats are going to want officials who are willing to ignore their own political party, because they’re ready to blame it for their lack of relevance in recent years.

It is those collar counties where we will have to see what happens.

These are the places that used to be solid Republican, but in the past couple of decades have seen a GOP that has in its adoption of such conservative ideology become so rural that these suburban people no longer clearly identified with it.

It is why Democratic Party organizations in those counties have made some increases (even getting significant support for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid in that one-time GOP bastion of DuPage County) in winning elections.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN in places like Naperville, Romeoville and Elgin? Will disgust with Chicago and urban life send them back to the GOP for this electoral cycle? Or will all of these rural types seem so alien that they will wind up sticking with their past trends – in which case, many Democratic officials likely will win re-election (albeit by smaller-than-usual margins of support).

Part of what is going to decide this is going to be the behavior of William Brady, the GOP nominee for governor who is counting on the fact that people will associate “Democrat” with “Chicago” so closely that they will revolt – essentially creating a government allied against the city and allowing them to tell the city what will happen (just like what occurred back in 1995-96, an era that saw the General Assembly push for a conservative social agenda; much of which eventually was struck down the the Illinois Supreme Court).

Much has been made of the fact that Brady comes from Bloomington, which is roughly the cultural dividing line between Illinoisans who associate with Chicago and those who despise it enough that they deliberately choose to associate with St. Louis instead.

They say he’s too different to identify with people in Chicago and the surrounding area. Which would mean a Pat Quinn electoral victory essentially by default.

BRADY HIMSELF WANTS to knock down that kind of talk. He soon will begin airing his campaign ads in the all-significant Chicago television market (which is the one that covers the area where about two-thirds of people live). The fact is that most people in Illinois don’t have the slightest clue who Bill Brady is.

The fact that he is competitive in recent polls is more a sign of some Quinn displeasure (he can appear so indecisive at times). Will Brady be able to maintain that kind of support once Chicago gets to know him as someone other than the guy who supposedly wants to euthanize pets?

Those campaign ads will be all-important, because too many people wind up getting what little they know about a candidate from those spots that try to say as little as possible while also smearing an opponent.

These spots that largely will be ignored in Chicago by political people (Quinn will win Cook County, which accounts for about 45 percent of the state’s population) will also be seen in those collar counties. Brady may play well in Peoria, but how will he play in Plainfield?

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN he sets foot in a place like Aurora, where a significant Latino population will be inclined to view him in a hostile manner – even though they really don’t know him. I can’t help but notice that Brady has gone out of his way to say as little as he has to when it comes to Arizona and immigration reform.

He doesn’t want to start an outcry that would cause what popularity he has in May to tank by November, although he has to give his rural conservative backers something, otherwise they might start getting suspicious about him just like some of the ideologues are now starting to think he’s not “anti-abortion” enough because his wife won’t come out and say clearly that she also opposes the medical procedure.

It is those collar counties that make up just over 20 percent of the state’s population. Which means that as much as it will shock people who think neighborhoods such as Bridgeport or Beverly are the center of the universe, it may very well be places like Lombard and Peotone that ultimately decide who our state’s new governor will be.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rev. Wright not an Obama confidant! Isn’t that what the president’s critics wanted?

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright popped up in the news again this week when the Associated Press came up with a copy of a letter that the president’s one-time clergyman wrote.

It seems that a group that wishes to transfer money from an account originally meant to buy, drugs, milk and food for children of Iraq to one that would benefit Haitian relief efforts can’t do so because of restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department.

THAT CAUSED THE Africa 6000 International group to think of people it knew who might have connections high up in the federal government. Those contacts, it seems, include the retired pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ – the church that Obama and his family attended for many years while living on the South Side.

What the wire service came up with, according to its report, was the letter Wright wrote back to the group in response – one that indicates he cannot help them in trying to get through to Obama to intervene on their behalf.

Wright describes himself as “toxic” and “radioactive,” writing, “no one in the Obama administration will respond to me, listen to me, talk to me or read anything that I write to them.”

Now I get the impression that this story is going to be used by many elements of our society who oppose the Obama administration (such as a man I saw this weekend handing out leaflets along Cicero Avenue while wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Impeach Obama” – and “Obama is a cracker” on the back) to feast on more political dirt.

REMEMBER THAT “CRAZY black preacher” who is Obama’s best buddy (he presided over the marriage of Obama and the former Michelle Robinson)? It is a chance to stir up more resentment that “this guy” who got elected president somehow isn’t worthy of holding the office – similar to the people who continually rant and rage that someone like Obama “can’t possibly be” a REAL U.S. citizen.

The problem is that this “story” seems to contradict that idea, which means the people who will use it will make sure not to read too deeply into it. Or if they do, they will claim it is a sign that Obama himself does not show personal loyalty to people (although if he did show loyalty to Obama, they’d be trashing him for that fact alone).

For it seems that Obama truly did cut off his old preacher, who presided over one of Chicago’s largest congregations – one that deliberately catered to the African-American population that wanted to feel a touch of “blackness,” so to speak, in their Sunday religious service (Oprah Winfrey was another one-time member of the congregation – although she seems to have lapsed from attending services at 421 W. 95th Street years ago).

Isn’t that what the people who were most skeptical of Obama back in 2008 would have wanted him to do? It would seem (unless Wright is lying, in which case the wire service is spreading mistruths with its stories) that Obama really is someone who is anxious to reach out to some middle ground in our society, even if it means abandoning someone who had become a significant part of his life.

I WILL BE the first to admit that I always considered a lot of the “controversy” surrounding the Rev. Wright to be misguided. Much of it seemed to come from people who weren’t all that familiar with the kinds of things that happen in churches that cater to predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

Perhaps these people got all their ideas from watching The Blues Brothers, where Jake “sees the light” while watching James Brown’s “Rev. Cleophus James” character sing and parishioners dance and fly through the air. In short, a little silly.

So when I first learned of the rhetoric that shocked much of the electorate two years ago, I have to confess it didn’t move me much. I have heard black preachers say more outrageous things. And the fact is that there is an element of truth to what Wright said.

But Obama gained political points for the way in which he “dealt” with the issue, coming up in a few days with a speech that allegedly put the issue to rest, while also cutting off his ties to the pastor so as to appease the people who want to perceive the issue as that of a “black racist who hates white people” – although I wonder how many of those people found other reasons to vote against Obama in the 2008 elections.

SO WHAT SHOULD be the appropriate reaction to the Associated Press reporting on this letter? The Obama critics should be happy in that they got their way, except that those people seem determined to be unhappy until 2012 (and 2016, if Obama seeks and wins re-election).

As for the rest of us, I’d rather think we would have forgotten about Wright by now. He’s a part of a past political campaign, not a continuing issue of interest to the public.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It’s still too early for campaign nonsense

In theory, I comprehend what the two major candidates for U.S. Senate from Illinois are trying to do. They want to be like then-Gov. Jim Edgar back in 1994, who in the weeks following the primary elections that year tagged his Democratic opponent, Dawn Clark Netsch, with so much campaign trash talk that set her public image in stone.

By the time she got around to campaigning and trying to define herself, it was too late. The public already had its image of a woman who would let our taxes rocket sky-high!!!

SO I SEE why both Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., the Democratic and Republican nominees respectively for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., are eager to campaign hard and aggressive in April and May.

They both have dreams of being like Edgar, putting away their opponent for good by June 1.

The problem is that neither one of these people is Jim Edgar – a veteran politico with a track record statewide. For people outside of the North Shore suburbs, Kirk never existed until this year, while Giannoulias remains the kid politico who would have been better off serving another term or two in state government before trying to move up to a Top of the Ticket electoral office.

Which means that the effect of all their combined politicking is making me convinced that our state is going to get a rube representing us in the U.S. Senate – regardless of who actually wins. There are times I don’t think either one of them is qualified.

WHICH IS WHY I already am tired of the television spots that both campaigns have run (Giannoulias is a corrupt banker getting bailed out by our tax dollars, while Kirk is nothing but a George W. Bush flunky) in recent weeks.

Which is why I am not taking seriously any of the polls that are being taken by any campaign or any other group with an interest in this election’s outcome.

The most recent was the one that Giannoulias’ people paid for – it has the two candidates tied (44 percent support for each). Giannoulias is touting it all over the Internet as a significant step, because just a couple of weeks ago, his own polls showed him with only 37 percent support, compared to 43 percent for Kirk.

Of course, I have no doubt that the Kirk camp, if it were so insecure about itself that it felt the need to do so, could come up with a study of its own showing it with a large lead over Giannoulias.

NOW THE POLITICAL observers are saying one possible reason for Giannoulias being able to “close the gap” in recent weeks and make this a dead heat is because of his ads, which have emphasized the areas in which the Republican representative from Kenilworth was aligned with the former president.

Which means that many poll-goers who really don’t have a clue about anything specific about either candidate merely reacted to the most recent visual statement that they half-listened to on television. Kirk = Bush. Bush = Bad. Therefore, “yes” to Giannoulias.

It is a simple-minded logic at work here. It also is about as deep as the line of “logic” at work for those who indicated a willingness now to vote for Kirk come Nov. 2. That one goes, Alexi (they probably can’t spell Giannoulias) = Dem. Dem = Bad. Therefore, “yes” to GOP.

The bottom line is that it is ridiculously early for either of these candidates to be thinking they can nail down this particular campaign. Edgar in 1994 was a very specific set of circumstances that I don’t think either one of these guys could duplicate.

CONSIDERING THAT THIS is an election I don’t think most real people (political geeks who get all worked up over a November election six months in advance are NOT real people) will think much about until somewhere about Labor Day at the earliest, I wonder who these candidates think they are fooling.

Does Giannoulias and his followers truly believe that the people of Illinois were swayed into believing that the dynamic of this campaign has suddenly shifted in his favor, as was the tone of all the reporting I read Monday about this latest poll?

Can’t he see for himself just how trivial he made himself appear to be, and how he probably gave the GOP hard-core a few laughing points to consider when discussing their opposition for Nov. 2. Before one gets the impression that I think it only Alexi who is behaving in an annoying manner, Kirk’s backers aren’t any better.

It has reached the point where I now dread looking at my e-mail account, because I know there are several entities that on a daily basis send me messages meant to make me look down on Giannoulias.

MONDAY’S “KEY QUESTIONS for the Giannoulias Campaign” that is meant to make me once again think of the Broadway Bank on the GOP partisan terms was so annoying and pointless that it is starting to make me think that WBBM-TV may have the right idea in saying it will no longer cover anything Kirk says about that particular issue.

As for the “Illinois’ Biggest Loser” statement based off the “Chief Executive” magazine story that said Illinois was the sixth worst state to do business in, I’d say that is because the partisan climate in this state has become so convoluted that no one can tell what politicians of either party are going to do (if anything). This isn’t something either side should be claiming as a “victory” for themselves.

Perhaps I am living a little bit idealistically. But for once, I’d like to have one of these clowns tell me why he thinks I should want him in the Senate. It is not like either one of these guys could claim to be Mr. Smith.

Whatever statement these guys would come up with would probably be nonsense. But trying to evaluate that kind of statement would tell us more about whether or not either one of these guys ought to be in a position to represent the people of Illinois in Washington, or if our “wildest dream” come true should be a do-over of the Feb. 2 primary elections that gave us these two as nominees.


Monday, May 17, 2010

EXTRA: The Donald backs Blago, sort of

Donald Trump gave a plug of support to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Not that it means much.

The plug from “the Donald” came when the real estate developer with the garish lifestyle made a Monday night appearance on the Lopez Tonight show.

TRUMP ACTUALLY DEIGNED to speak kindly of Milorod, saying that Blagojevich was a nice guy who actually worked hard. So even though he isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of an intellectual, he found him to be a likeable sort of person who got along with everybody.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from getting “fired” from Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” program two months ago, which led to a lot of stories being told about how Illinois’ former governor was so inept that he couldn’t even operate a laptop computer without creating complications.

Could this be part of the Blagojevich strategy? Throw out some sort of “charm” that makes the jury feel sorry for him, combined with all the political people who get subpoena-ed to testify. It might almost seem like electoral politics is just such a seemly racket that no one could escape being tainted.

I don’t buy it. But I suppose there’s always the chance that someone on the jury might see the same friendliness in Blagojevich that Trump (whom Lopez described as having a touch of “Latino” in him because he has had “five children with three different baby-mamas”) saw.

MY POINT IS that no one should presume that this is an open-and-shut case in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois. There’s no such thing.

Only 16 days (and counting) until jury selection (with an anonymous jury, for their own protection) begins – unless, by chance, the Supreme Court of the United States actually falls for his last-ditch attempt to delay the start of the trial by a few months.


Names fade from local news scene

Charles Flowers and Harry Aleman.

For anyone who has followed the Second City’s local news scene in recent years, those are a pair of names that keep cropping up because of their alleged activities. Not that many people would think of the two as a natural pairing.

ONE IS A suburban Chicago schools official who allegedly used his position to enrich himself, while the other is a member of what federal government junkies like to think of as “LCN,” but which normal people would describe as organized crime or the outfit (or the Mafia if they've watched "The Untouchables" with Robert DeNiro too many times).

But what makes them a pairing is that their best days are behind them. Both of them literally this weekend dropped off the face of the public policy earth.

Aleman is the so-called gangster – a man who is known among mob-watchers as being someone who was used whenever “the mob” wanted someone killed. Because of allegations of bribery, Aleman managed to avoid prison for decades.

But eventually, federal prosecutors became ambitious enough to conduct a second trial for Aleman, even though it technically violated his right to be free of “double jeopardy” – as in not being accused twice of the same crime.

THEY GOT THEIR conviction, and that is why Aleman finally went to prison in 1997 for a 1972 crime for which he had been acquitted (it’s not a true acquittal, the courts decided, if it was obtained through payoffs to a judge).

Aleman has been a continuing tale, his name cropping up throughout the years – usually as a sickly-humorous tale of how strong a hold “the outfit” had over the judicial system in Chicago even in contemporary times.

Some people literally would tell the story with a little chuckle about how a mobster managed to get one over on the courts – who theoretically were supposed to be protecting the interests of the people, as in us. Even after Aleman was finally convicted and sent to prison, some people found “amusement” (perhaps in the same way that Joe Pesci’s mob character from “Goodfellas” was a “funny guy”) in the fact that Aleman was able to remain free for so long – even though everybody within law enforcement “knew” who committed the crimes, even if if couldn’t be proven.

But now, Aleman and his tales have come to an end. The inmate at the Hill Correctional Center near Galesburg died Saturday afternoon. Officials say there was nothing particularly suspicious about the circumstances surrounding his death.

NO PRISON FIGHTS or vendettas. No possibility that a corrupt guard did something funky to the inmate. He was 71 and at the end he had cancer. Some people might think Aleman lived a long, full life under the circumstances.

In Aleman’s case, he got to spend the bulk of it outside of prison, even though mobwatchers and others who like to turn the ugliness of organized crime into overly-romanticized tales say that Aleman’s whole life was filled with acts of violence.

It’s not like the September 1972 shotgun shooting of Teamsters steward William Logan was an isolated incident within his life.

Also coming to an end this weekend – although in a different sense – is the saga of Charles Flowers, who for many years was superintendent of the Cook County Regional Office of Education.

THAT OFFICE WAS supposed to handle tasks such as ensuring that teachers within suburban Cook County school districts were properly certified, overseeing training programs for school bus drivers and and conducting the background checks on people who have jobs within the suburban school districts.

It was thought that having one agency for the more than 140 elementary and high school districts in the 128 towns that comprise suburban Cook County was more efficient than requiring each and every school district to do these duties on their own.

Yet throughout the years, the stories have been told of the often-inane bureaucracy within the agency that made the performance of such duties extremely difficult and a drawn-out process. There even were the rumors repeated in whispers throughout the years that the reason the office was not more efficiently run was because it would have cut into the schemes by which Flowers and his allies were personally enriching themselves.

Those rumors gained credence back in January when prosecutors came down with an indictment against Flowers. The charges are theft and official misconduct. Prosecutors claim that Flowers’ management style cost taxpayers more than $400,000 during the past two years, and they’re claiming it was not ineptitude that caused the losses.

IN ALL FAIRNESS, these are merely allegations. Flowers will get his day in court, and could potentially manage to be acquitted of all charges. But whether he just wants to focus on his eventual criminal trial or whether he felt there was something to the charges, Flowers earlier this month resigned his post.

There won’t be a successor. For Gov. Pat Quinn, the master of using Sunday press conferences to gain attention for himself, scheduled a public appearance this Sunday – during which he formally signed into law a measure that abolishes the regional schools superintendent for Cook County.

Flowers’ job died this weekend, as did Aleman himself. It is nice to know that these ongoing stories have reached their end, and that someday soon we will reach the point where most people will hear those names and won’t have a clue as to whom either one was.

Now if we could only resolve the decades-long saga of locating and building a third airport for the Chicago metro area, that would be perfect.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

How open is Chicago city government?

As much as I am a reporter-type at heart who views elected officials at all levels of government with a certain suspicion (how honest are they being when they speak to me?), I can’t say I have much of a hangup over the fact that Chicago city officials appear to be trying to undermine the whole concept of Freedom of Information Act requests.

City officials this week showed off the changes they have made to the official website of Chicago municipal government – and one of the new features will be lists of every single entity that files an FOIA request, along with an explanation of what type of information they wanted.

THERE ARE THOSE who think this is a shot at the working news media, as some reporters are enamored of the concept of filing FOIA requests so as to dig up city documents that might provide tidbits of information that are newsworthy.

By that logic, city officials are essentially trying to undermine reporter-types by exposing what issues we’re interested in – before we actually get any information.

These people seem to think that city editors and broadcast producers will start turning to the city website to see the latest additions to the list, so as to figure out what the “competition” is working on. No More Scoops!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That is a little bit too hysterical to take seriously (probably an overly-caffeinated assignment editor), and not just because I was never the type of reporter who got all worked up over filing FOIA requests (preferring to work potential “sources” for information that could be newsworthy – while also trying to keep in mind that those sources may try selectively feeding me information to make themselves look good).

THE CHICAGO SUN-Times went so far this week as to publish an editorial saying that reporters may even start making overly broad FOIA requests for information so as to make it more difficult for any third party to figure out what they are working on before it is published.

The only problem with that logic is that an overly-broad FOIA request invariably gets rejected on the grounds that officials need to pare down their request for data so as to make it relevant.

I don’t think city officials are trying to blow a reporter-type’s news scoop. I think if anything, they’re trying to distract attention from the fact that they’re going out of their way to avoid having to give any information through the Freedom of Information Act.

The law meant to make it possible for regular people to get certain information about the way their governments operate was always a bit vague, so much so that many governments (particularly in smaller towns) didn’t have set procedures for how to deal with an FOIA request for documents.

THAT OFTEN MEANT many local officials refused to give out such information on the grounds that they did not think they were legally obligated to do so. It was the ultimate passing of the buck. Everybody would claim that information distribution was some other official’s problem.

That was the real significance of the amendments made to the Freedom of Information Act in Illinois. Approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn last year with significant input from the Illinois attorney general’s office, one of the provisions was that every government entity had to specify a certain official who was responsible for processing FOIA requests.

Which means that passing the buck was no longer possible. Also, the amount of time during which a response to such requests had to be made was shortened. Is it any wonder that many local government officials spent this spring lobbying the Illinois Legislature to change the law back to something resembling its previous incarnation? I see the Chicago city action as little more than legalistic harassment until they can go back to stonewalling such requests.

But I don’t get too bothered because I realize that all that is being posted on the website is a list of who is filing the FOIA request. The actual information they provide to someone does not get posted. Although in many cases, I would guess that the reasons they use to justify holding off on providing information will never be publicly published.

CITY OFFICIALS ARE trying to make it look as though they are responding to requests, when the reality is likely to be the usual stonewalling (trying to find any legalistic reasons to avoid giving out certain information until it is so old as to be virtually irrelevant).

Besides, when I went to the city website on Friday to check out these lists myself, I found that most of them (each city agency has its own space for indicating FOIA requests related to each agency) were blank. Does this mean that the actual task of regularly updating the city website to include current FOIA requests is beyond the interest of city officials?

If that is the case, then reporter-types probably don’t have much to worry about. Mayor Richard M. Daley may even be accurate when he says the posting of FOIA requests adds to the “transparency” of city government.

This shows just how lazy some of our municipal employees can truly be when it comes to keeping up with the duties of their jobs, kind of like the “old days” when Walter Jacobson’s “Perspectives” would give us stories about Streets and Sanitation workers sleeping on the job, rather than picking up trash.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I am less offended by the idea of city officials making public who is requesting information via the Freedom of Information Act than I am the idea that the City Council wants to hire an inspector general to investigate itself, but only under such restrictions that it is unlikely that investigator would dig up anything worth knowing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

We’re split in response to immigration

There’s no doubt about it that we as a nation have a serious split when it comes to the issue of immigration. Then again, we’re split on just about every issue, so why should this be different.

Immigration has shot to the attention spans of many people who previoulsy weren’t paying much attention to the issue, either out of ignorance or indifference. A recent Gallup Organization poll found that 10 percent of the public now believes that “immigration” is the most important problem facing the nation.

WITHIN THE MIDWESTERN U.S., it is not quite as high. Only 8 percent of us think it is the Number One issue. But that compares to just one month ago, when only 1 percent of midwesterners (and 2 percent nationally) would have thought so highly of the issue.

The point is that the issue is on the radar screen of many, including those of us who live along the shores of Lake Michigan. Which means many of us feel the need to “do something” to show our outrage – one way or the other.

Because the responses show just how conflicted we truly are.

Officials from Highland Park High School already are receiving national praise and condemnation for their decision this week to have its girl’s basketball team (which won a conference title for the first time in more than two decades) skip participation in a national tournament.

THAT TOURNAMENT WAS being played in Phoenix, and school officials decided they did not want to send the girls into such an environment as Arizona has become in the weeks since state officials passed a law requiring local police to more vigorously enforce federal immigration laws.

We even got a statement from the school’s assistant principal saying, “we would want to ensure that all of our students had the opportunity to be included and e safe and be able to enjoy the experience. We wouldn’t necessarily be able to guarantee that.” Although we also got former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin using her Rosemont appearance Wednesday to make it clear she did not approve of negativity toward Arizona. This image of the Chicago Skyway may be a half-century old, but it shows clearly just how close parts of Chicago are to Indiana, where officials are threatening to enact their own Arizona-inspired takes in immigration enforcement. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

I will give a little bit of credit to a school district that might easily have been able to think of this issue as something that doesn’t directly affect them. Nobody would have ever expected that school to take any action. The fact that they were willing to make such a statement says something for their character.

Now I know some people are arguing that this amounts to politics interfering with sports. Student-athletes shouldn’t be used to make political statements. They should just play the game, these people will argue.

OF COURSE, THEY’RE arguing that the very fact that the game would get played in such an environment is a political statement in and of itself. Of course, it would be a political statement in favor of Arizona and their policies that are going to turn out hostile toward the Latino population (30 percent of the state, and growing). Which when one considers that Arizona used to be part of the territory that was the New Spain colonies (and later Mexico) seems small.

Not that Highland Park was the only place to make a statement. To the south in Calumet City, the city council there passed a resolution Thursday saying their city officials will not attend conferences in Arizona, nor will they do business with companies that are significantly based in that state.

Admittedly, that particular south suburb does not do much business with Arizona entities. Officials there admit this is more a “symbolic” gesture to show the growing Latino population in that suburb that they have support from their local government officials.

But there are those officials who are trying to claim for Calumet City the status of “First Midwestern Municipality” to pass a resolution criticizing Arizona. I don’t know if that is literally true, because I know the Cook County Board is considering a resolution making a similar statement. There may have even been another town that slipped something past my attention.

BUT I DO know most of the most vocal criticism is coming from the Southwestern U.S., particularly in Los Angeles – where officials earlier this week passed their own resolution that treats Arizona in spirit the same way governments acted in the mid-1980s when many rushed to pass resolutions condemning South Africa and the set of laws known as “apartheid” that made that country’s now-defunct segregation the law of the land.

In fact, all of the states surrounding Arizona are making it clear they do not plan to follow Arizona’s lead on the immigration issue. It seems to be states that are farther away from the issue that most want to let their paranoia run rampant.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn has said he thinks Arizona was wrong and he would never approve such a measure here. But in neighboring Indiana, a state legislator is threatening to push for such a law in the Hoosier state next year if the federal government does not start behaving in a way he deems appropriate to the issue.

Now why should we care that Indiana wants to impose this type of Arizona-inspired nonsense on themselves? It may be their right to do so.

BUT LET’S NOT forget that Indiana is the one surrounding state that shares a border with Chicago. Down in the land of “Avenue O” and all of the alphabet streets, Indiana is not some abstraction. It is the place with the steel mills lurking in the distance that do their part to pollute the surrounding air. There are Chicagoans to whom Indiana is a daily fact of life. Such a change in law would impact us.

One can literally go to 106th Street and State Line Road, in the shadows of the Chicago Skyway, and look to the east across the street at Indiana. It makes me squirmish to think we could soon have such Arizona acts enforcable so close to our own borders.

This is not an issue for our local government types to enforce (just as immigration laws are not something for local police to be bothered with). The solution to all of this nonsense is going to have to come from Washington, where President Barack Obama gives the issue lip service but has aides who secretly wish they could postpone this battle for a future date.

The problem is that this fight is here now, and must be addressed as promptly as possible. The sooner that federal officials realize that fact, the better off we all will be.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

COHEN CAPERS: Is Baxter Swilley the Illinois equivalent of Admiral Stockdale?

“Who am I? Why am I here?”


Those were the “immortal” words of Admiral James B. Stockdale, the man whom political observers initially thought could become something along the line of John McCain (both were POWs during the Vietnam War), but wound up becoming a doddering old man seriously out of his element in the world of electoral politics.

For those of you to whom 18 years is too long a time period to remember, the admiral was the man Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot turned to during his 1992 presidential campaign as a political independent when he needed a running mate.

STOCKDALE WAS THE vice presidential hopeful who wound up making then-Vice President Dan Quayle look downright competent by comparison. (By comparison, Perot made Stockdale look competent, but that is a story for a different day).

Now why am I bothering to recall that campaign from two decades ago that, while it managed to take 19 percent of the actual vote, was unable to win a single vote in the Electoral College?

It’s just that I’m wondering if we in Illinois are destined to see something similar with the way in which Scott Lee Cohen is determined to think of himself as a gubernatorial candidate.

Which means he needed a running mate. If one wants to think of the eccentric Cohen as a modern-day Ross Perot, then that makes Baxter Swilley the 21st Century equivalent of the admiral.

SO HOW LONG will it be until Swilley gives us some quotable line showing us his ability (or lack thereof) to comprehend the reality of electoral politics?

Swilley has never held electoral office. But he does have a little more political experience than Stockdale did. He was, after all, the guy who worked as a staffer on the Cohen campaign that actually managed to beat five other Democrats who were running for the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor.

For what it’s worth, Swilley is a native of suburban Maywood (Stockdale was a native of downstate Abingdon) and is an African-American male, which Cohen hopes adds a sense of diversity to his campaign – assuming that Cohen/Swilley are able to get the 25,000 valid signatures of support required of any independent political candidate in Illinois to get a spot on the ballot.

On a more serious note, he’s “staff,” not “candidate material.” He worked as a political director in Missouri for the 2004 presidential dreams of John Edwards, and also has worked on the campaign staffs of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Jackson, Miss., Mayor Harvey Johnson.

SWILLEY ALSO WAS one of the people who worked to try to get the International Olympic Committee to put the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Chicago.

Which means he may know how to stage a campaign event for Cohen. But can he be the focus of those events? We’re talking about a newcomer to Illinois politics, which some people think is exactly what the state needs. Of course, I can’t help but wonder how clueless these people would be if they ever actually got elected to office, which is why I have a tough time taking seriously any political “movement” that wants to dump all incumbents.

In fact, Swilley has such a limited background that much of the coverage of Cohen’s choice of a running mate had to focus on whether or not he truly was Cohen’s top choice. Is this really what Scott Lee thinks is a qualified person to serve as governor of Illinois, should he happen to get on the ballot, win the election, then die or otherwise become too incapacitated to serve out a four-year term?

Depending on which report one reads, Cohen makes general statements saying Swilley was his ideal pick, or was his second choice after being turned down by state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago – who began his own political career by getting elected to the state Legislature as a political independent.

THERE EVEN WERE some reports indicating that Cohen would have liked to have had a woman at his side in the role of lieutenant governor – in hopes that her presence might force constant repetition of all those stories about his past involvement with prostitutes and his falling behind on child support payments to his ex-wife to go away.

Either that was not the case, or he couldn’t find a woman willing to work with him for the next month-and-a-half (the period during which he must get those nominating signatures of support).

To me, that is the key to this whole issue.

Swilley may very well be a lieutenant governor “candidate” until June 21, at which time the campaign will die before ever getting started because it could not get sufficient support to force the Illinois State Board of Elections to put it on the ballot along with Quinn/Simon, Brady/Plummer or Whitney/Crawford (can’t forget the Green Party, although I’m sure most Illinoisans will).

IS SWILLEY GOING to be the guy who in the lieutenant governor debate makes Jason Plummer look a little less vaccuous than his 27-year-old inflated resume would otherwise be?

Then again, there might be one area where Swilley could never hope to beat Admiral Stockdale. He got turned into a caracature on Saturday Night Live by the late Phil Hartman (who could bark out, “Who am I? Why am I here?” with such a harsh snarl and a glazed look in his eyes that he made the admiral appear completely insane.

Somehow, I doubt that Kenan Thompson will ever devote the time to portraying Swilley (he’s too busy preparing for his next Roland Burris impersonation).