Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chicago ought to have room for another religion, we have so many here already

When it comes to the Islamic religion, we seem to be confused.

I couldn’t help but notice how Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., went out of his way Monday to express his support for a Muslim community center in Manhattan that would include a mosque located just a couple of blocks from the site of the one-time World Trade Center.

HIS SUPPORT, WHICH comes while certain other local political people such as Gov. Pat Quinn try to distance themselves from the issue, came on the same day that the Illinois State Police got hit with a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on account of the fact that they got persuaded to back off of a gesture that would have been seen as supportive of Muslims throughout the state.

All because there are some people in our society who want to view this religious faith as somehow being “too foreign” to belong in this country – which, if my history is correct, is what many people used to want to say about the Catholic church.

When it comes to the state police, it seems that this has become a case of someone being punished for not having a little more backbone.

It was earlier this year that the state police decided it could use a new chaplain, and they decided to hire someone of the Islamic faith for the post that helps the law enforcement agency’s employees cope with the stresses of their jobs.

SHEIKH KIFAH MUSTAPHA, who is with the Bridgeview-based Mosque Foundation, got the offer, only to have it rescinded when activists with religious hangups followed the lead of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which tried to call Mustapha a person with criminal ties.

They went so far as to say he is one of “300 unindicted co-conspirators” in a federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. That is a group that describes itself as a charity with a special interest in the Middle East, although its critics say the money it raises ultimately winds up going – directly or indirectly – to groups willing to use terrorist tactics to promote their beliefs.

I don’t have any firsthand knowledge about Mustapha or his activities. I don’t know about the charitable organizations he has worked with. Although I can’t say that any of the people who have made various accusations have come up with any evidence that has swayed me to believe they know what they’re talking about.

So in line with the very American concept of a person being not guilty until proven otherwise, I am assuming for now that Mustapha hasn’t done anything wrong. Which makes the state police response to the accusations seem weak, similar to how President Barack Obama’s staff had an initial reaction to Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod that assumed she must have said something inappropriate.

AFTER ALL, ACTIVISTS for the far right said so. It didn’t turn out to be true then. What about now?

Which is why I will be curious in seeing what becomes of the lawsuit filed by the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which argues that the state police action amounts to discrimination based on race, religion and ethnicity, and also claims his First Amendment rights to freedom of expression were violated because it presumed guilt by association.

It just seems like too many people are willing to believe the worst when it comes to people who are Muslim, which winds up making us as a society look petty and weak. Personally, just about every Muslim I have ever met (for that matter, every Arab – regardless of religion) either came to this country or had parents who came to this country specifically because they wanted to get away from the crazed fanatics in their homeland whom we all admit are a threat to our society.

It makes me wonder why Arabs aren’t regarded as being similar to Cubans – where our common distrust of Fidel Castro and his regime results in them getting preferential treatment when it comes to their entering the United States, then settling in to our society. It just reeks too much of religious bigotry to be taken seriously.

WHICH IS WHY I was also glad to learn that Durbin was willing to take a favorable stance, unlike Quinn (who says Muslims should be respectful of those people with religious hangups against them) or Mayor Richard M. Daley (who tries to turn the issue of a Manhattan mosque into one of why a memorial to the Sept. 11 dead has not yet been erected).

Durbin on Monday told the City Club of Chicago about how religious freedom has to be respected for all. He even recalls the one item that still survives physically from when his grandmother and mother came to the United States from Lithuania nearly a century ago. It was a Catholic prayer book printed in the Lithuanian language, which was considered a criminal possession in their homeland back then.

People back then came to this country out of a belief that they would be left alone in certain areas to live their lives. That is a similar belief many of these newcomers have today, even if they don’t come from the same places or have the same beliefs of the early 20th Century.

That evolvement of our nation and our society must not be interfered with. Because it is that tolerance of all that ultimately gives our society the moral high ground that we so often like to boast about.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Police trying to warn the street gangs of the legal harassment they could face

Learning that Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis and various federal prosecutors had a “sit-down” recently with members of assorted street gangs couldn’t help but make me remember an old episode of Hill Street Blues, that 1980s cop-shop show that many believe was influenced by our fair city (even though its urban area was never specified).

In that episode, Jesus Martinez, leader of the Los Diablos streetgang (played by actor Trinidad Silva) had a one-on-one meeting with Daniel Travanti’s “Capt. Frank Furillo” character. After an initial round of negotiations in which the gang asked for firearms and body armor (with Furillo countering with an offer to print up t-shirts with the gang name on them), the two came to an understanding.

THE DIABLOS’ LEADER offered police some assistance with a case, in exchange for the police providing his mother with an escort whenever she wanted to go shopping (because, after all, the streets of the neighborhood are so bad, even the gang leader’s mama can’t go out in public).

Admittedly, that meeting on television was played up for laughs. Which is something I doubt was meant to occur with the meetings that have taken place in Chicago in recent weeks.

It was reported during the weekend how Weis, a former FBI agent (who did a stint as special agent in charge of the Chicago field office), and his former federal prosecutorial colleagues held a meeting at the Garfield Park Conservatory with those gang leaders, whom it seems didn’t take the message being delivered all too well.

The Chicago Tribune reported specifically that the gang members present “got up and walked out” of the meeting. How rude!

OF COURSE, THE message they were given was a rather blunt one, although anyone who has been watching the criminal proceedings surrounding former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (or any other federal defendant, for that matter) should realize its truth.

When the federal government decides it wants to “get” someone, it has a lot of tools it can use to break people. Basically, what the gang members were told is that law enforcement is prepared to use those tools to break them.

If any streetgang members didn’t realize how little one has to do to be involved in a conspiracy, perhaps they know now.

For as Weis put it during a press conference held Saturday (thereby ensuring him big play in the weekend news broadcasts on account of the lack of other news to cover the past couple of days), federal racketeering statutes can be used to allow “the law” to seize all kinds of personal assets, and not just those that belong to the person who is suspected of actually doing something that is legally improper.

WEIS SAID HE is prepared to go after the leaders of individual street gangs if police are able to trace back any specific incidents to members of that gang.

Which means we have the very real prospect of some streetgang leader’s mother losing what little she may have in the way of assets because some thug decided he couldn’t behave himself.

That may be cold. It may be harsh. Even somewhat callous.

But ultimately, it probably is the only type of thing that is going to gain the attention of those in streetgangs. Because those outfits exist so far outside of what many of us would want to call respectable society that it will take the legal equivalent of a sledgehammer to gain their attention.

WE’RE TALKING ABOUT people who feel so disenfranchised by our society that they’re not likely to be intimidated by the mere presence of a police car passing down their block – or one of those surveillance cameras erected on a streetlamp at the end of their particular block.

The only problem with this “tough-guy” approach is that I hope nobody thinks that it alone will reduce crime. Because the way to do that ultimately is get at some of the root causes of crime -- which are poverty and a sense of alienation that some feel toward our society.

Quite frankly, the solution to the problem of streetgangs and the crime they cause is to reduce any incentive that one might feel to want to join a gang. In too many urban neighborhoods, young people get sucked into the gang cultures because they fear the sense of being alone in this world outside of a gang more than they fear the chance of being arrested for some gang-related activity.

Some people have their hangups about the idea that Weis met with gang leaders, spewing out that old line about how one does not want to acknowledge the legitimacy of the individual street gangs. Of course, trying to ignore them and pretend they really don’t have such influence in certain parts of our city hasn’t worked all that well.

SO I’M GLAD to learn that Weis was willing to deliver a tough message in person. I only hope it doesn’t have a Hill Street Blues-type ending.

For if I recall that particular episode, the gang leader’s help wound up doing nothing to ease tensions, and the police wound up shooting up a liquor store where hostages were being held.



Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cohen is ignored at one’s own risk

It became official Friday – Scott Lee Cohen will be one of the candidates whose name gets printed on the Nov. 2 election ballot as a candidate for governor.

Cohen, of course, is the man who won the Democratic party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, then had to drop off the ticket within a couple of weeks because of indignation over his personal past – which includes a record of boorish behavior toward his ex-wife.

IN SHORT, HE’S a cad.

But that has never excluded anyone from holding elective office in the past. And it seems Cohen isn’t giving up on his dreams of becoming a public official. Pat Quinn gets punished for not sticking by Cohen in the days following the February primary by now having to run against Cohen – who seems determined to take advantage of the fact that many black voters in Illinois these days are disenchanted with the Democratic Party.

Personally, I wasn’t surprised by Cohen’s electoral victory in the primary. Too many political observers seem to forget that the rank-and-file legislators who were running for that lieutenant governor’s post are only known to the people who live in their immediate district.

Probably most people in Illinois have never heard of Art Turner, who was supposed to be the favorite to win that primary. If anything, they probably heard the name and guessed he was some distant relation to the singer and guitar player Ike Turner (whom we all know has his own record of mistreatment of his ex-wife).

SO WHEN I heard during the primary season that Cohen was willing to spend his own money to come up with a few million to advertise himself, and also was scheduling events staged as job fairs to help people find work, I figured there was a good chance that the typical voter who picked a Democratic ballot would see the half-dozen names running for that office and HIS name would be the only one that jumped out at them.

Combined with the fact that people I encountered who actually knew Cohen personally all said he is a down-to-earth guy who doesn’t come across as a professional politician means there is a chance that the types of voters who find electoral politics intimidating might think he is a refreshing change of pace.

Those same factors are all the same reasons why we shouldn’t count out Cohen as having a chance to take a significant number of votes come Nov. 2. Perhaps even enough to become the factor that deprives Quinn of a victory and gives the people of Illinois four years of “Gov. William Brady.”

I’m sure the same people who thought that Art Turner or Mike Boland, or perhaps even Rickey Hendon, were the natural favorites back in February are now presuming the fact that Cohen’s personal problems and borderline sleazy behavior make him damaged goods.

WHICH MEANS THEY’RE underestimating him, which is what I’m sure is exactly what Scott Lee wants.

For I can’t help but notice the types of appearances he is making in recent months. All very low-key, and ignoring anything where he gets confronted by a mass of people. It’s almost like he wants to reach voters one at a time, and give them a personal dose of his personality.

He also seems to be seeking out the off-beat news media outfits (cable access programs, small-town radio stations, dinky circulation newspapers that rarely get a crack at a “real live candidate for governor.”

The one constant is that he has not been facing questions about his behavior and his character and his qualifications for the job, which I question because I personally am skeptical of any business owner who thinks that having his own company qualifies him to run government. They are just two different breeds of animal.

WHICH MEANS THAT the appearance that Cohen gets to put on is one of his charm scaled back to the small-town level. Since I don’t think he expects to win come Nov. 2, I honestly believe he is merely trying to knock about a few of those people who wouldn’t back him, and instead have given us the noble, if not quite exciting, concept of Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Sheila Simon.

It’s not just Quinn. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if he could help shift enough votes away from Democratic candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives so as to turn Michael Madigan into a “minority leader” for the first time in 14 years.

I know some pundits who are paying attention to Cohen are concerned about his impact on the black vote, which various polls are showing is not as solid for Quinn as should be expected. Not that they’re going for Brady – many are undecided, and may just decide this election doesn’t mean much.

Personally, I wonder if it is going to be a fight among all the malcontents on the ballot for that black vote. Since the Green Party’s LeAlan Jones is a black man running on that party’s ticket for the U.S. Senate seat, and he is leading an effort by the Green Party to strengthen its status as a political party by getting disenchanted African-Americans to shift their Election Day ties.

WHICH MEANS IT could be the Green Party gubernatorial hopeful Rich Whitney who winds up benefitting from any black voters who decide they just don’t want to back Quinn.

Although in the end, I do believe many African-American voters will wind up with The Mighty Quinn, if for no other reason that the Greens and the Cohen camp have the potential to be so weak that those voters would gain nothing by backing them.

But for that to happen, Quinn is going to have to take the Cohen candidacy seriously. I only hope that such action will kick in in those days following Labor Day. Otherwise, this election cycle could turn deadly brutal because of a man too many people are underestimating as politically bloodied and buried.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Perhaps now Kirk will quit whining that his Dem opponent won't debate him

It has been a sight I have seen a few times in recent weeks as the unsolicited campaign press releases come flowing into my e-mail; Republican Senate hopeful Mark Kirk insists on portraying some event he attended as a debate opportunity that his Democratic challenger skipped.

Kirk’s people seem to think they could make this into an issue of Alexi Giannoulias being afraid to confront their guy. Actually, it just means that Kirk’s scheme from earlier this year to have up to seven debates around the state never went anywhere, but Kirk wanted to pretend it did.

LIKE I HAVE written before, one of the unofficial ground rules I use to determine whose campaign is doing well is to say that the first candidate who gripes about how his opponent won’t debate him is a loser who feels desperate for attention.

It always shocked me that Kirk would want to give off that impression of himself.

Which is why I was glad to learn this week that Giannoulias and Kirk have agreed on something resembling a debate – which for all its stilted rhetoric does give us a chance to see the two candidates together operating under similar ground rules. It does matter.

No, we’re not getting anything resembling Kirk’s proposed tribute to the Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858, which means Kirk doesn’t get to assume the role of Honest Abe (who lost that particular election, but is remembered by history as having the moral high ground for his positions).

IN FACT, THE debate is going to be the ever-so-traditional event hosted by the League of Women Voters. On Oct 19, they will conduct their debate in the studios of Chicago’s ABC station, WLS-TV, 190 N. State St.

But instead of a second event to be held in Springfield, or some other non-Chicago-area municipality as a sop to the rural Illinois vote, the two candidates are booked for Oct. 10 to be the guests on the NBC Sunday morning public policy talk show, “Meet the Press.”

I’m not sure if this means both candidates will be in Washington for this broadcast, or if we’re going to get some sort of deal by which show moderator David Gregory talks to a pair of video screens depicting the candidates from somewhere else.

I’d like to think that the two major candidates for U.S. Senate aren’t lame enough to try to resort to that tactic out of an attempt to try to impose some control and give themselves an upper hand. But I know better.

POLITICAL CANDIDATES WITH tactics are like athletes with steroids – they’re dumb enough to try anything if they think it will give them an edge.

So what should we think of the fact that “Meet the Press” is going to be the forum for what the candidates are calling their second debate?

The campaigns are saying they’re doing this because our very own Senate seat is the focus of national media attention. We are a national news story. Isn’t that special?

The problem is that “we” are national largely because “our” officials have behaved in such a butt-headed manner. That includes both of these candidates. So the nation as a whole will get to see just how dense both Kirk and Giannoulias are capable of being.

SOUND LIKE I’M not all that impressed by this particular candidate field? I’m not, and I don’t think many people in this state are. Which is how I explain all those polls that indicate Giannoulias (the alleged Mob banker) with such a slight lead over Kirk (the Liar) that they’re technically tied.

Which means that I believe the people who do bother to watch the broadcasts of these debates (Will you wake up early enough on Sunday, Oct. 10, to see “Meet the Press?”) will be looking more than anything for a gaffe, a flub, any trivial aspect they can use to justify in their minds voting against one candidate and voting (by default) for his opponent.

This year’s debates truly will be the “challenge to avoid saying something stupid” (which is how Saturday Night Live’s Don Pardo once introduced a sketch parodying the 1992 presidential debates).

One other factor from the debate rhetoric caught my attention. Kirk’s people say they still want more debates, while Giannoulias’ people hint they may add more events.

I THINK IT puts Giannoulias in control on this issue, and Kirk winds up looking like a follower, a challenger, and a loser if he doesn’t knock off this type of rhetoric. I’m surprised Kirk would want to view himself this way, no matter how much he wants to spin it that 2010 is a year for challengers).

Nonetheless, I won’t be surprised if one more such event gets added – something physically staged in an Illinois city outside of the Chicago area. Because my mind can already detect the disgust of those downstate voters who are going to see a debate in Chicago and a debate in Washington somehow snubbing their existence.

I don’t think it does, but that is a topic perhaps for a future debate.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

EXTRA: There goes Fed compassion

Anybody who had any delusions that the federal government would significantly scale back its criminal case against one-time Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich should have their hopes dashed by Thursday’s actions in U.S. District Court.

As I see it, the fact that prosecutors are willing to let Rod’s brother, Rob, walk away without having to endure a re-trial on the four charges for which a jury could not reach a verdict merely means they’re focusing their attack on the younger brother.

THEY DON’T WANT anything detracting attention from their case against Rod. I fully expect they will come back with all the charges they tried to get convictions on before. They may even come up with more technicalities.

They want that conviction against a former governor. Robert Blagojevich had become a distraction they no longer wanted to deal with.

Robert was informed by his attorneys Thursday morning that he no longer faces criminal charges. He can now start putting his life back together. It may be easier for him than some other defendants who manage to avoid conviction – just because so much of the attention was focused on brother Rod.

He’s the one who will never be able to have anything resembling a typical life.

IT ALSO HELPS that Robert had long left the Chicago area. He gets to go back to Nashville, where he can become the local curiosity. “That’s the guy with the crazy brother who tried to ‘sell’ a Senate seat,” will be the whispers going around the country music capital city.

Besides, it really came across that Robert Blagojevich’s one mistake was saying “yes” when his brother asked for help with his gubernatorial campaign. Which prosecutors claimed put him on the periphery of illegal activity.

It never seemed that Blagojevich (as in Robert) was fully aware of what was happening (although ignorance of the law isn’t considered an excuse to break it) around him. Besides, I can understand the concept of coming to a brother’s aid if asked (and feeling pressure from a promise to his mother that he and Rod wouldn’t neglect each other).

Which is why it probably is for the best that this becomes, for the time being, a one-person criminal trial that likely will take place some time in 2011 (despite the partisan political fantasies of Republicans who want it to take place now, with a verdict some time the last week of October – and Election Day on Nov. 2).


Is he committing political suicide?

I remember once having a drink with a couple of reporter-types and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives who got it into her head to try to dissuade us of the notion that all the Democratic members were rigidly controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

As Mary K. O’Brien (now an appellate court judge) put it, she was free to vote however she wanted on any bill that came up for a final vote in the Legislature. The only obligation she had to Madigan was to promise that her very first vote of the session would be to support Madigan himself for the position of House speaker.

SHE ADMITTED THAT she had to make that promise back during her primary election in order to get Madigan to approve funds from his campaign coffers to bolster her chances of getting elected. She did, and he gave her the money that allowed her to get elected to serve a few terms as a Springfield politico.

All of this is what makes it interesting that a Democratic candidate running for an Illinois House seat is being bold enough to say he has no intention of supporting Madigan to be speaker of the House for the legislative term that runs from 2011-12.

Dennis Ahern, who lives in the Quad Cities and wants to replace Mike Boland (who gave up his legislative seat for an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor), even gets comical in saying that he would vote to pick a first-term legislator to be the head of the Illinois House for the next two years.

Ahern, at least as far as I can tell from reading the reports published by the Rock Island Argus and Moline Daily Dispatch newspapers, seems to want to make a point that he is not an incumbent member of the Legislature.

HE SEEMS TO want to make people realize that he would be a newcomer, probably because he thinks the people of his legislative district are in a goofy enough mood this year to want to dump anyone – regardless of their actual accomplishments – who has any experience.

Because Boland is a Democrat, my guess is that his Republican challenger, Rich Morthland, is trying to make Ahern an incumbent by association. So Ahern figures he needs to make a drastic statement to show he’s not the incumbent.

Because I really don’t think Ahern is so stupid as to think he can get away with ticking off the man once nicknamed “the Velvet Hammer” by coming out and opposing him so bluntly.

For the fact is that Ahern took money from Madigan’s campaign fund during the primary election season, and has received another infusion since. His hometown newspapers report the figure as $10,000 for each campaign cycle.

WHICH MEANS HE must have made the pledge to Madigan’s people that he would be supportive of one of the few Chicago politicians who went to the Springfield political scene, and enjoyed it enough to want to have his career there – rather than just use it as a training ground to spring up to Congress or back to Chicago and influence at City Hall.

Do we really believe that Ahern is of such a unique mental fiber that he has the gall to take Mike Madigan’s money, then turn around and mess with him?

I honestly believe it is little more than a campaign tactic, particularly since Ahern himself told his hometown newspaper that Madigan’s reaction was to tell him to, “never vote against your constituents.”

I’d like to think that voters would be intelligent enough to see through such cheap campaign rhetoric. But I’m also realistic enough to know that sometimes a cheap message is what some people want to hear. And I’m also realistic enough to know there is an element in our state political makeup by which sometimes Chicago the city proper gets pitted against the rest of the state.

MY GUESS IS that if this speaker were from anywhere but Chicago, Ahern wouldn’t even dream of making such a cheap threat as to vote for Anybody But Madigan.

We’ll have too see if it works come Nov. 2. For if Ahern loses, it won’t matter who he would have backed for Illinois House speaker. Then , we will see whether he sticks by his summer-time rhetoric, or whether he is gambling that everyone will have long forgotten what he is saying now.

One reason I am skeptical is because I remember back just over a decade ago, when then state Rep. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, (now, she’s in the Illinois Senate, and supposedly was a serious consideration by Gov. Pat Quinn for lieutenant governor) said in the days after an Election Day that she might not vote for Madigan to be speaker of the Illinois House.

Yet when push came to shove, she backed him. I still recall when that particular vote was taken on the new Legislature’s first day of existence in January. She voted “yes” for Madigan without giving any indication that she had ever considered opposing him. Which makes me wonder if Ahern is destined to become the same story.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Has a perennial idea’s time come?

It has been a decade since I was one of the reporter-type regulars at the Illinois Statehouse, yet I can remember one of the perennial ideas people would latch onto if they wanted to gain some public attention for themselves was the concept of merging the state comptroller and Illinois treasurer into one single office.

To show how most political people didn’t take the idea too seriously, my lasting memory was of then-state Rep. Cal Skinner, a Republican from the Crystal Lake area, wisecracking that having a chief financial officer would mean Illinois would have a “chief f.o.,” a dull remark for which he actually got laughs from his colleagues.

BUT NOW, IT seems that Republicans are hoping to make this issue something a little more real. Their nominees for treasurer – state Sen. Dan Rutherford of Pontiac – and comptroller – former state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka – both said recently they would work together to ensure that one of their political positions no longer exists.

In an attempt to undermine the ability of Topinka and Rutherford to turn this perennial political issue into something of significance, Topinka’s Democratic opponent, state Rep. David Miller of Lynwood, said he is willing to back the idea.

Even Democratic treasurer nominee Robin Kelly says she could back the idea, saying, “leaders must pursue every avenue to save money,” and also claiming she had the idea first.

How can Topinka use this issue to bash Miller (or Rutherford to attack Kelly) if, theoretically, they support the same stance? In political-speak, Miller’s action “takes the issue off the table” as a campaign matter.

NOT THAT I expect this will cause Topinka to shut up about it. She wants to be able to use this issue, which on the surface sounds like something so incredibly obvious that we wonder why the drafters of the Illinois Constitution didn’t just do it that way when they put the current document together back in 1970.

Oddly enough, it was Illinois’ long-standing history of potential for political corruption (people like Rod Blagojevich are petty compared to Paul Powell or Orville Hodge) that made the good-government types who were part of the Constitutional Convention insist that there be two separate people of equal authority as state constitutional officers who have a say in state finances.

In theory, either one of them could “rat out” the other if something fishy were taking place. And neither one has complete financial authority, meaning that one’s ability to enrich themselves with some sort of scheme would be limited.

For the record, the state treasurer’s office is the one that oversees Illinois government’s financial investments. That person does whatever possible to try to make the state more money.

THE STATE COMPTROLLER’S office has no say over those investments, but has control of the state’s checkbook – so to speak. That person’s staff handles the actual payment of bills, and they are the ones who have to decide when there is a financial shortfall such as we are experiencing these days who gets paid late, and who gets paid ridiculously late.

So is it irresponsible to put all this financial responsibility into the hands of one official. The Topinka/Rutherford financial monster says that modern technology would make it easier for other people to track finances and serve as a watchdog, should a chief financial officer decide to try something funky.

Oddly enough, Miller and the Topinka/Rutherford two-headed beast are trying to spin the issue differently.

Miller wants to talk about government ethics, saying a streamlined government would be easier to monitor for ethical flaws.

FOR TOPINKA/RUTHERFORD, THEY want to cite cost-savings Twelve million dollars is the cost they estimate would be saved by turning two constitutional offices into one.

There’s just one problem. This isn’t something that a governor can just enact through executive order, or even the General Assembly pass into law by a mere majority.

This is a part of the Illinois Constitution, just like those provisions related to redistricting that wind up resolving the issue of control of the process by a purely-random lottery (which was another good-government idea that was supposed to encourage compromise because political people would supposedly fear a random draw and the possibility of getting nothing).

Which makes it easy for anyone to say they favor this idea now, because it doesn’t mean their job would suddenly disappear after Election Day.

WE’RE TALKING CONSTITUTIONAL amendment, which is deliberately a difficult (if almost impossible) process to navigate.

Sixty percent of the Legislature has to agree on the issue, then it would have to go on the ballot for voter approval. And there are restrictions for how many amendments can be on any given ballot, which means the powers that be could always decide to crowd up the ballot with other issues so as to squeeze this one off altogether.

Even if citizens concerned enough about the issue were to try to go the other route to pass petitions to force the issue on the ballot, there are restrictions on what kinds of issues can be addressed by that route. Illinois’ courts have historically shown a willingness to knock down just about anything that anyone tries to push for an amendment through that route.

My point being, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon – if ever – no matter who wins those particular campaigns come Nov. 2.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quinn campaign struggles, but Blagojevich takes the title for head goof

I believe that Gov. Pat Quinn should be thankful for the behavior in recent days of Rod Blagojevich. Because it is about the only thing that prevents us from labelling the incumbent governor as being the most delusional person our our political scene.

Quinn is the guy whose executive Inspector General got dumped and had his chief of staff quit on him, just a few days after the political consultants he hired to help him get re-elected quit on him – and took a few pot-shots at him in the process. Can't Quinn keep anybody?

ONE COULD SAY that Quinn is the guy who is losing to a guy who, on ideological grounds, he should be wiping the floor with. Instead, it seems William Brady may have a chance at a Nov. 2 success – although with just over two months remaining in the campaign season, I can’t help but think that anything could happen.

But before we write off The Mighty Quinn as the man without a political clue, I think we all have to agree that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich gets that title – regardless of anything that the current governor does.

At least that is how I respond to Blagojevich on Sunday for his comments that he has it in the back of his head that he will run for political office someday – after he is acquitted of all charges in whatever second trial he is forced to endure.

The pomposity contained in the thoughts of that last sentence are so intense that it almost makes me want to wretch just by writing it. Blech!

WHAT I CAN’T figure is if this is just Blagojevich-style posturing, or if he really is this delusional?

Because back when the Illinois General Assembly went through the process last year of impeaching Blagojevich and removing him from office, they also took the time to pass an order that specifically bans Blagojevich from ever running for an Illinois political post again.

I’m sure some people thought that ban was wide-ranging and covered everything. But I’m pretty sure it would be restricted solely to positions within Illinois state government. Of course, Blagojevich rose to the top of the pile in Illinois state government, so I can’t envision why he’d want to go back there.

Does Milorod really believe he could go back to Washington and serve in Congress? Perhaps he thinks he can move to a neigborhood where the locals will be sympathetic enough to want him as their representative?

THE ABSURDITY OF that statement makes me want to laugh at this payaso (with apologies to Bozo, Clarabelle and Krusty). Ha Ha!

Or maybe Blagojevich, the man who while he was governor never seemed to like to leave the city limits, has it in his head that he can run for a city government office. Maybe he thinks he is Mayor Richard M. Daley’s future replacement?

That thought creates a reaction within my body that is both noisy and smelly, along with being rather rude in public.

So the idea of Blagojevich with a political future, to me, creates a reaction of wretching, laughter and a fart. In short, I don’t exactly take the idea all that seriously. Which is why I wonder why anyone these days is taking it seriously.

IT CERTAINLY SEEMS that way, since newspapers and their websites across the country are playing up Blagojevich’s talk, which came on one of those weekend talk shows of political analysis. I realize it was a Sunday broadcast being written up in the Monday newspapers, which means it got covered for the same reason that news organizations pay attention to anything Pat Quinn does on Sunday.

There’s nothing else to cover.

They may like to think they are more sophisticated than the attempts at political and social analysis that we get from Oprah or those women at The View. But Fox News Sunday showed it could be just as vaccuous for allowing Blagojevich to go on their air and say such stuff without challenging him much.

In fact, I’d like to think that Whoopi Goldberg would have smacked Blagojevich upside the head and told him to quit being a fool, if he had tried to say these same things on her daytime talk show.

ABOUT THE CLOSEST anyone came to challenging him was when he was asked why he would refuse to travel to their studios in Washington for that interview, instead attending the Comix Con convention held in Rosemont this weekend.

At least to that question, Blagojevich gave a blunt answer that was probably the only honest comment he has made in a long time. He needs the money.

All of those people who were willing to pay Blagojevich $50 for his autograph (or $80 for a photograph with him) are helping him to come up with money to live off of for the next few months. Of course, just to put things into perspective, pro football Hall of Fame member Jerry Rice commanded $150 for an autograph at a recent sports collector’s convention held in Baltimore (and $170 for a photo op). Although former pitcher/current broadcaster Steve Stone can be had "cheap" for $30.

So being a goofy guv with delusions of a political comeback (perhaps he thinks he’s his one-time idol, Richard Nixon, circa 1962, instead of 1974) has its limits.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Guv hopefuls use doubletalk for support

Call it strange political speak.

Both of the major candidates seeking the position of Illinois governor have made comments in recent days that seem as though they are trying to reach out to the “other side” for support.

THE PROBLEM IS that we are in such a partisan environment these days, that it is unlikely anyone’s mind was changed by what they heard from either Gov. Pat Quinn or his Republican challenger, state Sen. William Brady of Bloomington.

In the process, Quinn managed to make such a boob out of himself that I wonder if he managed to cost himself support among the people who should nominally be his supporters.

At stake is Brady talking about abortion, and Quinn speaking on the subject of religion – specifically the place of Islam within our nation.

Both of those candidates should have heard a “Danger, Will Robinson”-type alert sounding in their minds as they were preparing to speak. Perhaps they just preferred to ignore it.

IN THE CASE of Brady, he told a Republican gathering that while he might be opposed to the idea of abortion being legal, the simple fact is that it is a legal medical procedure that has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Anybody who thinks that electing him governor is going to result in Illinois passing laws calling for criminal penalties against doctors who perform the procedure is misguided.

“If you look at the makeup of the letter of the law, there’s very little that the governor can do,” Brady said while speaking at a temple in Springfield; a comment that has the anti-abortion activists upset because they want to believe that they can undermine the laws that permit a woman to terminate a pregnancy if she chooses.

The political pundits have said Brady is trying to downplay the ideological rhetoric so that he won’t be quite as scary to people who aren’t so conservative on social issues, particularly those who have developed their own hangups throughout the years at the very concept of Pat Quinn.

BRADY STILL SAYS, “yes, I am pro-life,” which means he’s not making as big a flop as Quinn did when he decided to open his mouth and speak on what really is a New York parochial issue – and which a Gallup Organization poll recently showed most people aren’t overly concerned with.

Quinn, who likes to think of himself as an unreformed liberal in a state where many Democratic government officials run from the “liberal” label as often as possible, decided he wants to be on the record as favoring the position of the conservative ideologues who want to think that Islam is somehow too foreign a religion to have a place in this country.

When asked about whether an Islamic community center that includes a mosque should be permitted at a location just a couple of blocks from the site of the one-time World Trade Center, Quinn said, in part, “I do believe that there are special places on Earth that should have a zone of solemnity around them. I would strongly urge those who are thinking of putting a mosque within that zone to rethink their position.”

I’m sure that part of what influenced Quinn was the fact that when President Barack Obama (whose favorable ratings in Illinois are still about 55 percent, at a time when his national approval rating is 43 percent) made comments favorable to the people who want to develop that community center, the conservative trash talkers got their soiled undies in a bunch.

QUINN PROBABLY FIGURED it would be easier to say something sympathetic to the “other” side, hoping his comments would get lost in the shuffle.

It hasn’t. If anything, Quinn has gained more hostility by saying what he did, rather than what many of his partisans would have wanted him to say. Officials with various Muslim groups, along with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are now trashing him.

What amazes me about Quinn’s comments was that he made them at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield on the day that Democrats use for assorted partisan activities, including a morning breakfast in the Illinois capital city at which several Democrats of national stature made it clear they back Obama for siding with the idea that religious bigotry should not be permitted to prevail in this instance.

Quinn couldn’t hear what was being said? Is Quinn that clueless? Because the Pat Quinn of old who has made so many enemies among people of all political parties, including his own, would have been the first guy to lead this particular attack, not try to repel it.

QUITE FRANKLY, I find it unbecoming of a public official when they say what they think a certain group of people will want to hear from them. Because I happen to think most people are intelligent enough to see through the charade.

I don’t see what the governor thinks he gained, because I don’t think any of the people in Illinois who are most worked up over this issue would have been inclined to vote for The Mighty Quinn under any circumstances. They will see through this rhetoric.

All Quinn has done is caused people who were already wondering “what’s the point” of bothering to show up to vote on Nov. 2 to think their hesitancy is justified, especially when Brady comes off (by comparison) as the candidate whose faculties have a grasp on reality.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

316-292, + 1

By leaving now, Lou Piniella gets to ensure that he won’t wind up as just another losing manager of the Chicago Cubs.

As things stand, in his 3 ¾ seasons as the boss on the playing field, his teams managed to win 52 percent of their games. Although the way things are going this season, there was a slight chance (if they had lost 31 of their final 38 games) that the team’s overall record under Piniella would drop below a winning record.

IF ANYONE IS capable of putting together that big a streak to finish a season, it is the Chicago Cubs (although after seeing the White Sox Saturday night blow their first game in extra innings, then give up a lead in the 9th inning of a second game, I wonder about them as well).

So Piniella, the man who played in four World Series with the New York Yankees and managed in one other with the Cincinnati Reds, along with being the manager when the Seattle Mariners reached a point in their history when they were actually a significant franchise, is now on his way back to Florida (he’s a life-long Tampa area resident). Sunday against the Atlanta Braves will be his last game in a Chicago uniform.

Which likely clears the way for one-time star second baseman Ryne Sandberg to take over the team, which I will admit intrigues me because it will place both of Chicago’s major league ballclubs in the hands of their star middle infielders from the 1980s.

Ryno versus Ozzie Guillen. That will be a personafication debate for the future.

FOR NOW, I can’t help but look back at Piniella, whom I must admit was a favorite ballplayer of mine when I was a kid – and whom I got to interview as a reporter-type back in 2000 when his Seattle Mariners knocked the White Sox out of the playoffs that year in three straight games.

A part of me always wondered just how much an association with the Chicago Cubs would wind up besmirching his overall record.

For all those people who thought that Piniella was somehow bringing New York Yankee-like vibes to Wrigley Field, I’d argue that the drag of the Cubs always seems to overcome that. Yankee ties didn’t make Gene Michael (114-124 in 1986-87) a winning Cubs manager, and I know those people who like to think that the reason the Yankees themselves didn’t win the World Series in 1981 was because they had made the mistake of reacquiring outfielder Bobby Murcer from the Cubs.

Even though Murcer always thought of himself as a long-time Yankee who succeeded Mickey Mantle in center field, that trade made him the requisite third ex-Cub on that ’81 ballclub, thereby allowing the “Ex-Cub Factor” to kick in and even take down the mighty Yankees.

AS FAR AS Piniella is concerned, I don’t think he did quite as much damage to his reputation. He did win those two division titles. And he is he first Cubs manager to walk away from the team with a winning record in quite a while.

It will be just another set of circumstances that helped add a few years to what baseball writer George Castle called the “The Million-To-One Team,” the title of his book about the Cubs and what Castle said were the odds any team would have to overcome to be as unsuccessful over such a long period of time as the Cubs have been.

Too many people will remember Piniella’s Yankees playing days (and all those water coolers that got smashed amidst Lou's fiery temper), particularly that moment in the 1978 tie-breaking playoff against the Red Sox when he managed to stop a base hit in the sun by Jerry Remy from becoming more than a harmless single. Had Piniella lost sight of the ball and Remy had managed to get extra bases, there’s a good chance that shortstop Bucky Dent’s monumental home run in that game wouldn’t have meant much of anything.

Others will remember his fiery temperament in Cincinnati and in Seattle, particularly in 2001 when he managed a team to 116 regular season wins (still a record), although that team wound up falling short to the Yankees themselves.

SO HERE IS hoping that Lou enjoys retirement, since I doubt he is going to latch onto any other ballclubs. It seems now that the managers of major league baseball clubs are the guys roughly my own age (Ozzie is 46, Ryne will turn 51 next month) who were ballplayers when I was in college and a young reporter-type person in Chicago, rather than the ones who were ballplayers when I was a kid.

Here also is hoping that Lou’s mother, whom he cited as part of his reason for not finishing out the season, recovers from her illnesses.


EDITOR’S NOTE: With Sunday’s 16-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Cubs complete the Lou Piniella era with an overall record of 316-293. Mike Quade begins his managerial stint meant to finish off the season on Monday against the Washington Nationals. The real competition is to see if Quade becomes even less memorable a Cubs manager than Jim Essian (part of 1991).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Would Blagojevich be a classic Batman supervillain, or a one-time two-bit geek?

I know this is a thought that will be regarded as heresy by comic book geeks the world over. But to me, Batman is that cheesy comic parody from 1960s television. Adam West and Burt Ward rule!

Not that I plan to be among those people in Rosemont on Saturday to see the pair. The idea of spending time at a cocktail party with two aging actors strikes me as being a bit depressing (although the idea of hanging with Julie Newmar – no matter how old she may be these days – is enticing).

I’M REFERRING TO the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con event being held this weekend, giving various comic characters a chance to show themselves off in hopes of making some significant extra cash. People wishing to go to that Batman cocktail party will have to cough up $20 and pay for their own drinks, in addition to the $25 admission fee to the event itself.

Of course, most of the attention that event has received in recent days is because of one of the other attractions. Rod Blagojevich.

He’s going to be on hand for about six hours on Saturday in Rosemont, signing autographs and giving away pictures of himself, along with engaging in some brief chitchat with people who attend.

The event’s organizers claim there is nothing odd about inviting Illinois’ former governor. They say their event is about pop culture, and that Blagojevich has now become much more than just a government official. He is a personality in and of himself.

I DON’T KNOW if I think that highly of Milorod.

But I have been wondering if it is all too appropriate for Batman and Robin to be in Rosemont on the same day as Blagojevich. Because a part of me wonders what kind of Batman supervilian we could concoct from the persona of Rod Blagojevich. I have no problem envisioning the Goofy Guv being included on this Rogue's Gallery of criminal masterminds who were defeated by Batman.

During his three years on prime-time television (and in reruns throughout the decades that these days air on WWME, channel 23), Batman took on regulars such as the Joker, Penguin and the Catwoman. But he did battle with such lesser personas as the cowboy Shame (played by Cliff Robertson), Louie the Lilac (Milton Berle) and Bookworm (Roddy McDowall) – who may have been the most literate criminal mastermind to exist in Gotham City.

So how would it be such a stretch for Batman to have to fight off the schemes of The Goofy Guv (alias, Miles Roderick Blagoyawhatever)?

ENVISION BATMAN FEELING the need to rid mighty Gotham of corrupt politicians engaging in schemes meant to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense. The real-life Blagojevich persona wouldn’t need to be tweaked all that much in order to turn him into a super-villain.

Think about it.

The Joker was a hideous clown, while Catwoman was a sexy feline. That pompadour atop Blagojevich’s head would be his visual trademark. Perhaps they could even come up with a gimmick by which the Goofy Guv would use all that mound of hair in order to hide weapons to try to fight off Batman and Robin.

He would dress in overly flashy suits that probably cost a lot of money, but don’t have enough true class to show what a pretender he is at being a respectable part of society.

WHEN TIME COMES for Batman and the Goofy Guv to brawl (BAM! POW! SWOOSH!), he’ll strip down to a jogging suit and try to run away using his incredible stamina. Of course, Batman will have the Bat-mobile to use to catch him.

When it turns out in mid-episode that the Goofy Guv actually manages to capture Robin, thereby requiring Batman to come rushing in to his rescue, we will see some scheme by which Robin is dangled from the ceiling, while being tortured by Elvis Presley’s music being played at deafening sound levels.

All the male villains had a female cohort. The Goofy Guv would have Chatty Patti – who will leave you speechless with a stream of profanity if you get too close to her man.

Of course, all of Batman’s villains had comical henchmen to help in their criminal schemes. That would be a problem for the Goofy Guv, since as far as I can tell, no one in Illinois government likes him enough to want to have anything to do with him. The Goofy Guv and Chatty Patti would have to ride solo.

NO HENCHMEN IN pompadoured wigs and jogging suits for the conniving couple.

In the end, Batman always prevails. That would happen with the Goofy Guv as well. And I can picture the perfect Batman-type ending.

All Batman has to do is reach into his utility belt and produce an aerosol cannister of hairspray remover. One spray of that at the Goofy Guv’s head, and his hair becomes such an unruly mess that it falls over his eyes – thereby leaving him blinded long enough for Batman to capture him (while Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl manages to chase down Chatty Patti on her purple motorcycle).

Which would be the appropriate outcome, because I can’t help but think a real crime is taking place this weekend up on Rosemont.

REMEMBER HOW I said people have to pay an extra $20, plus the cost of their drinks, to attend that Batman cocktail party? By comparison, people who want a Blagojevich autograph will have to pay an extra $50 and an extra $80 to have their picture taken with the Goofy Guv.

The idea that Milorod is worth more than television icons like West and Ward must be a crime against our society’s pop culture.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to acknowledge fact, Rod Blagojevich did put in several hours Saturday at the Comic Con, signing autographs, wandering the grounds and joking with the people to whom a fun day is getting to meet “Bo Duke” and “Captain Kirk.” The Chicago Tribune managed to capture the sight of Blagojevich sitting in the driver’s seat of the Batmobile (photo eight in the gallery), which makes me wonder if Adam West should knock some sense into Rod for that alone.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sosa not completely full of it when he says Cubs are doing him wrong these days

“You know that’s the reason you’re here.”

Sammy Sosa had just hit a home run (his 62nd of the season), and I still remember those words coming from a baseball “fan” who happened to be sitting in front of me at Wrigley Field on Oct. 5, 2001 as we both watched the Chicago Cubs lose 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sammy Sosa, from back in the days when he was the Dominican Republic's gift to baseball and to the North Side of Chicago.

I REMEMBER THAT game largely because it was the final weekend of the season. The only reason I went was because the Chicago White Sox had already played all of their home games and were on the road for the final week. In order to indulge myself one last ballgame for the 2001 season, I had to settle for the Cubs.

Personally, I cared less about Sosa. A part of me shared the disdain felt back then only by many White Sox fans that somehow, the whole Sammy Sosa phenomenon that had overtaken baseball and in the process made the Chicago Cubs one of the game’s most visible franchises was a fraud.

Now, everybody who follows baseball talks about Sosa like White Sox fans used to, probably even that guy who sat in front of me some nine years ago but whom I haven’t seen or heard from since.

The reason for that bashing, of course, is the fact that many fans want to believe that steroids have tainted the game and made all those home run statistics that got recorded in the early 2000s somehow illegitimate.

SOSA, OF COURSE, thinks he’s the victim. He still wants to be loved by the city of Chicago, even though White Sox fans gloat at the thought of him and Cubs fans don’t want to have to face the fact that their teams from that era weren’t anything special (they didn’t win a thing, and some of them barely avoided losing 100 games per season).

Chicago magazine got an interview with him where he says the Cubs “threw me into the fire” and make people think he is a “monster.”

I’ll be the first to admit that Sammy Sosa is not a monster. He’s a baboso. A man who tried to turn himself into a real life copy of Garrett Morris’ Chico Escuela character.

Now that “beisbol is not berry, berry goo” to Sammy, he’s miffed.

I’LL ALSO AGREE with his comment that no one can take away the statistics, which have to be acknowledged regardless of what one thinks about the whole concept of steroids (I think that ballplayers using steroids take a serious chance of screwing up their bodies far worse than any punishment fans could impose with their indignation).

Sosa is, after all, one of only about a half dozen people out of the tens of thousands who have played major league ball in the United States to hit more than 600 home runs. He also is the only player to ever hit 60 or more home runs three times.

In theory, he is the personification of what a Baseball Hall of Fame ballplayer should be. The “controversy” should be whether or not the officials at the Hall of Fame’s museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., manage to get his name correct on his bronze plaque. It’s Samuel Kevin Sosa Peralta, and if you think I’m kidding, keep in mind that for a couple of decades, Roberto Clemente’s bronze plaque misidentified him.

Yet in what is probably the biggest piece of proof that Sosa wasn’t all he was cracked up to be (he was a crummy outfielder who couldn’t throw that well, and was so obsessed with hitting home runs that his other hitting skills deteriorated) was that fact that in NONE of those three seasons (1998, 1999 and 2001) that he hit 60 or more home runs did he lead his own league.

MARK McGWIRE, MARK McGwire and Barry Bonds are in the record books as the home run champions of the National League for each of those three seasons respectively.

I’m sure a lot of Cubs fans are going to read about Sosa’s diatribe (or more likely hear about it, since many of them will be too cheap to shell out $4.99 to buy a copy of the magazine) and are going to get all defensive. They’re going to claim that Sosa brought all of his indignation upon himself.

We’re going to hear over and over about how the 2004 season ended with Sosa leaving Wrigley Field before the end of the season’s final game, and how that alone ought to wipe out all of the good will that Sosa had built up – to the point where he would openly say he is the real “Mr. Cub” instead of Ernie Banks.

Yet a part of me can’t help but think that Sosa has a point, and that the level to which the Cubs seem to want to think of Sosa as persona non grata is extreme.

THE TEAM WAS more than willing to put up with Sammy’s enormous ego back when he was smacking all those wind-blown home runs into the Wrigley Field bleachers, or mugging for the television cameras with his ritual cap touches and blown kisses (I still remember the indignation that was dumped on the White Sox’ then-shortstop Jose Valentin when he dared to mimick Sosa for the television cameras).

Should we now proclaim Jose a hero for his actions? I'm not willing to go that far, but Cubs fans lapped up Sosa too much then for them to now be allowed to get away with going into denial.

Because while Sammy may be a little goofy, the Cubs’ treatment of him these days does reek of the old Soviet mentality of trying to rewrite history, thereby turning Sosa into a non-person.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

This verdict is weird

Perhaps it is the drawback to having more than 24 hours to ponder the verdict (or lack thereof) against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is only guilty of one of the 24 counts that were pending against him. I am more confused now than I was when the verdict was announced.

To my mindset, he got dinged on the least serious charge – one whose purpose for being added onto the list of 24 was to pile on the charges and increase the potential for prison time once a “guilty” verdict was reached against him.

IN SHORT, THE charge is evidence that federal prosecutors have something of a bully mentality to the way they approach their job. One might argue that the kind of people who get singled out by the federal government are the ones who have done some serious wrong and deserve to be pushed back a bit.

But a part of me seriously believes this particular charge all by itself makes no sense. It only makes sense in a context with guilty verdicts on other charges. Which, as we all know by now, didn’t happen with the case of Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert. Although I'm sure there's a law schooll graduate out there with too much free time on his hands who will be more than willing to e-mail me a convoluted explanation of how this can be justified.

One has to remember that the FBI had been watching Blagojevich for years before the incident that was supposedly his “crime of the century” – that of trying to “sell” an apppointment to the U.S. Senate to whomever would arrange for him to get the largest campaign contribution.

None of that behavior occurred until the days after Barack Obama got himself elected as president in November 2008.

THE COUNT FOR which he is now a guilty man who must check the “yes” box that asks “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” is one that relates to a conversation the governor had with the FBI back in 2005.

Blagojevich said he put strict “firewalls” between himself and his campaign contributors so as to prevent them from gaining any undue influence with him. Prosecutors say that was blatantly untrue, so they’re charging him with it.

Now I know there are stricter requirements in place by which people are supposed to be cooperative with law enforcement types, even though the Bill of Rights itself protects us from having to make statements that would incriminate ourselves.

But my point in bringing all this up is to say that it is not an illegal act for a politician to keep track of who is giving money to support his (or her) political campaigns. So his statement, strictly speaking, wasn’t covering up a specifically illegal act.

WHICH IS WHY I don’t get how a jury could seriously vote unanimously for “guilty” on this one count when they couldn’t reach unanimous agreement on anything else.

It almost strikes me as being some sort of mental compromise – find him guilty of the most petty charge so that the headlines will all say “Blagojevich Guilty!” (except for those few that preferred to say, “Blagojevich a Liar!”). It will appease those people who were determined to have Blagojevich serve a prison term, regardless of the facts behind his actual behavior.

But I still say it makes little to no sense.

He “lied” about something that, strictly speaking, wasn’t illegal. But none of the potentially criminal real activity could be decided upon. Perhaps because it really is unclear to what degree we ought to be criminalizing political behavior.

SO NOW WE have to sit back and wait for Aug. 26 to get an official sense of what federal prosecutors intend to do with the 23 charges that are still pending. The real shock would be if prosecutors decided to just accept the one-count conviction – which likely could get Blagojevich about one year of real time in a federal correctional center.

We will be getting a new trial, perhaps some time next year. Which means this issue will continue to hang over Illinois government operations. It also means Republican patisans can continue to rant and rage about the issue without giving off the appearance of bringing up ancient (by contemporary pop culture terms) history.

We get to relive this entire experience. Although I would expect a scaled-back version of the case, and perhaps one that won’t attract the national hordes that this particular trial brought to Chicago. I do believe the “do over” trial will be strictly a local spectacle, because I can’t help but think that the nation has had its fill of Milorod Blagojevich.

I’ll also have to admit I didn’t think much early on of the decision by U.S. District Judge James Zagel to grant anonymity to the jurors in this particular case. Yet I’m sure the woman who allegedly was the 1 in the 11-1 votes to convict on a few counts is glad she gets to be anonymous.

AT LEAST UNTIL some conservative ideologue persists in publicly identifying her, and will also claim he is not responsible for any fate that befalls her as a result.

Because I suspect when that happens, she is going to become the potential mate for Steve Bartman – that Chicago Cubs fan whom some other fanatics irrationally blame for costing the Cubs a National League championship in 2003.

I’d like to think that the masses will behave rationally. Most people will. But all it will take is for one ding-dong to act up in a stupid manner for this to become a national incident.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Obama fights for election win – in 2012

President Barack Obama is going about the nation partaking in fundraising events to help come up with cash for would-be Democratic allies seeking election (or re-election) come Nov. 2.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if Obama’s real concern is the next electoral cycle – the one in which he will have to seek re-election. Presuming, of course, that he intends to run for a second term as president.

OBAMA IS GOING around describing Republicans as the party of “No We Can’t,” claiming they are for nothing but obstructionism of policies that would move the nation forward – solely because he is the person making those suggestions.

Even his rhetoric with regards to a New York local issue-turned-national (a mosque that would be part of an Islamic community center located just a few blocks from the site of the one-time World Trade Center) seems meant to portray the GOP partisans as the ones out of touch with a sense of decency.

Now I know the Republican activists are getting all worked up. Various polls show they are the ones who are eager for Election Day to come so they can cast ballots in ways meant to show their opposition to Obama being president.

Of course, it’s not like most of those people were ever Obama supporters to begin with. In fact, various polls taken by the Gallup Organization during the past year show that Obama’s support among white people and black people remains at about the same level.

IT IS THE Latino segment of the population that has seen a drop, and that has nothing to do with anything the Republican partisans would view as favorable. Latinos are losing faith in Obama because many feel the president isn’t standing up enough to the GOP hardcore that seems eager to demonize everyone who isn’t like them.

Could it be that by defending the right of anyone of any religion to have a facility in Manhattan near the World Trade Center site, Obama is trying to appease the people who fit into that non-Republican group of people?

I know there will be losses in numbers following Nov. 2. It is standard that after a president gets elected, his opposition gets its act together and bolsters its numbers somewhat. When combined with the unique aspects of an Obama presidency that caused some people in our society to have their hangups about him from Day One, the losses may be larger than usual.

I’m sure that on a certain level, Obama and his aides are looking to minimize the losses suffered by nominal Democratic allies as much as possible.

BUT I REALLY believe the focus for the president is more on 2012.

For a part of me feels that he is confident that if the GOP partisans were to get enough control to start pushing through a blatantly partisan political agenda, the end result is going to be a populace that gets so turned off that it views him more favorably when he seeks re-election.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., is trying these days to resuscitate his political reputation by trying to make himself a leader of the political movement against Obama-style politics. Yet Gingrich had the power once, and his place in history is not a positive influence.

If anything, people like Gingrich are the GOP worst enemy whenever they open their mouths. Because they confirm that Obama isn’t off-base when he says the conservative element is not in the mainstream of our society.

HOW ELSE TO explain Gingrich’s comments on a Fox News Channel program this weekend, where he tried trashing the idea of anything affiliated with Islam near the World Trade Center by comparing it to “Nazis…put(ting) up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.”

Comparing all German people today to Nazis would be about as absurd as saying that all U.S. Christians are sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, after all, thinks it is a Christian group promoting “American” values, yet sensible people realize that is ridiculous. Just like they ought to realize how ridiculous it is to think that Islam and its supporters worldwide are somehow reflective of the individuals who were involved in the activity of Sept. 11, 2001, and that there's no legitimate reason to restrict Muslims from any part of New York.

If anything, Gingrich is showing he hasn’t changed much. So why think that he wouldn’t blow it again like he did back in 1995 and 1996, if he were given any serious influence next year.

Insofar as the issue of an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site is concerned, it is one that many people will come to see as no big deal, once we get past the campaign season and the need for conservative ideologues to rant and scream about the issue for partisan political purposes.

WHICH MEANS WE may well come to see that Obama’s rhetoric last week about the issue wasn’t completely off-base, and that the Democratic Party officials who desperately tried to back away from it (particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.) should have relaxed instead.

When the Republican partisans try to continue such rhetoric for the 2012 electoral cycle, I wonder if there’s a very good chance that the majority of us will be so tired of it by then that we may very well decide to vote against it by casting a ballot for a second Obama term as president.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EXTRA: No matter the counts, still guilty

After all the rhetoric we’ve heard in recent years about then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich trying to “sell” a U.S. Senate appointment to the highest bidder, tried to get a $50,000 “donation” to his campaign from officials at Children’s Memorial Hospital and in general tried to get people to cough up cash so he could create a foundation someday that would pay him to work as little as possible, a lone count conviction seems like nothing.

The jury that spent 14 days deliberating after several weeks of listening to testimony only came back with one guilty verdict, and 23 undecideds.


Back in March of 2005, Blagojevich was less than honest in describing the way his campaign committee handled the contributions that came in from various entities. Blagojevich talked of having “firewalls” in place to keep from being wrongly influenced by would-be donors.

The jury seems to think those donors did have some influence over the former governor’s thinking.

That seems a long ways away from the notion that gave this trial its national cache to begin with – soliciting bribes from people who were interested in replacing Barack Obama in the Senate after he was elected president two years ago.

OF COURSE, THE bottom line is that the headlines that will appear in the newspapers on Wednesday will be something along the lines of “Guilty!” Rod Blagojevich faces the prospect of up to a five-year term in a federal prison for that one guilty count. Until Blagojevich the governor can find an appeals court to say otherwise, he will be considered a convicted felon.

And it is definite that the federal prosecutors will be “sore losers” and will insist on doing the trial all over again. Perhaps they think they will get a jury next time that will be more inclined to trust the prosecutors when they say something illegal was done.

Although it would be nice if they could scale back the effort. Fewer charges. Something more simple for a jury to comprehend. Which may result in the desired prosecutorial verdict of “guilty, times 23” (or however many charges wind up being filed next time).

The U.S. Attorney’s office threw out its hints of re-trial on Tuesday, and they have until Aug. 26 to make their intentions known officially. That is when this matter returns to the Dirksen Building.


Did Putz blow Sox pennant chance?

I’m not coming right out and saying that the Chicago White Sox chances of winning an American League pennant were flushed down the toilet bowl of life on Saturday when relief pitcher J.J. Putz gave up a home run that converted a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers into a 3-2 loss.

But I feel sorry for Putz, who because of that game and his followup performance on Sunday has the chance to become a White Sox “immortal” along the lines of Jerry Dybzinski if it turns out that the White Sox fail to at least win their division for the 2010 baseball season.

WHEN WE LAST tuned in at this weblog to the White Sox, they managed on the final day before the All Star Game to gain first place (after having started out playing absolutely crummy ball). They managed to hold that lead for about a month until recent days, although the Minnesota Twins played tight enough that the White Sox were never able to build up any kind of significant lead.

Which is why last week’s 1-2 peformances against both Minnesota and Detroit at U.S. Cellular Field are so harmful. Losing two of three to Minnesota gave them a one-game lead.

Losing two of three to Detroit (while Minnesota managed to take all three of their games against the Oakland Athletics) turned it into a three-game lead.

The White Sox managed to do themselves no harm on Monday. It was an off-day for travel. To Minneapolis. Where they will spend the next three days playing those same Minnesota Twins.

BE HONEST. HOW many White Sox fans are fearing (and how many Cubs fans are eagerly rooting for) a three-game sweep by Minnesota in Minneapolis. Which, if it happens, would turn the three-game lead into a six-game lead.

Which considering that we’re now approaching late August and the time of the season where things start settling into the way they will wind up at season’s end on Oct. 3.

If we really have the White Sox six games behind the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 19, should we really even regard there as being any kind of fight for the American League central division title? I’m not saying it would be a victory of historic proportions to overcome a six-game deficit with just over a month left to the season.

But let’s be honest. The character of Chicago baseball is to be the team that blows a six-game lead, not overcomes one.

PERSONALLY, I THINK a bigger factor in the White Sox failure (if they wind up failing) will be the fact that they lost two of three games to Minnesota last week in Chicago. That was a series they really needed to take at least two of three – if not actually win all three games.

But it will be easier for many fans to seek out one moment – which means that Saturday game against the Tigers will hurt, because all Putz (the guy who supposedly is good enough to be the top relief pitcher on most teams, but has been a backup to ailing Bobby Jenks for the White Sox) had to do was get through one inning to preserve that 2-1 White Sox victory.

If they had taken the first two games against Detroit, maybe they would have been inspired enough to avoid that 13-8 loss that they got hit with the next day.

Maybe the White Sox could be going to Minnesota with only a one-game deficit, instead of a three-game lag.

NOW MAYBE I am being overly pessimistic. Maybe the White Sox willl wind up the night Thursday having taken all three games against the Minnesota Twins to enable them to catch the first place ballclub and be in a tie for the division lead. Eh, if I were that perennially optimistic and delusional, I’d be a Chicago Cubs fan.

Instead, I’m seeing a situation where Alex Avila of the Tigers may have earned his way into “heel” status in the minds of White Sox fans for hitting that ninth inning home run that cost the White Sox a ballgame that fans feel they should have won on account of starting pitcher Edwin Jackson’s stellar performance over seven innings.

Of course, White Sox fans largely would rather blame their own, which means that Putz could find himself in uncomfortable territory for years to come – almost as much as Dybzinski, whose baserunning error in Game Four of the American League playoffs is still blamed for costing the White Sox the 1983 league championship.

Perhaps the two could chat someday.

BECAUSE ABOUT THE only way some fans are going to forget that weekend game against Detroit is if the White Sox actually manage to pull off a three-game sweep to tie the whole affair up.

Personally, I will be impressed if they manage to win one of the three games. A four game deficit isn’t good, but somehow doesn’t sound as ominous as that six-game lead that Minnesota could have by week’s end.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Is “old school” news style too tacky?

The Chicago Sun-Times gave us a news “exclusive” that reeks of the news mentality of decades past.

Drew Peterson, the one-time suburban Bolingbrook cop whom many people believe killed two of the four women he has been married to during his life, sent a letter to the Sun-Times, specifically to gossip columnist Michael Sneed. Considering that his telephone access to broadcasters who could put him on the air "live" is largely restricted, this seems to be his lone way of expressing himself.

SHE CAN NOW claim an “exclusive” on a two-part story that she largely didn’t write. The copy that made it into print is largely the text of Peterson’s letter – edited for space – in which he talks about the conditions of his life for the past year in the Will County Jail.

He takes his share of digs at other law enforcement types (he never became an Illinois State Police officer because his parents weren’t brother and sister and wonders if the jail officials who routinely strip-search him ever think about his naked image while having sex with their wives), and also talks about his incarceration itself (the food is “really isn’t that bad,” but “a step down from Army food.”)

By and large, it seems that Peterson believes he is being singled out for abuse by a society that is all prepared to believe the worst about him. It also seems that no matter how much many of us want to think of Rod Blagojevich as some sort of egotistical buffoon that Drew has him beat.

Milorod is Mister Humility compared to the former Bolingbrook police sergeant – who now faces criminal charges connected to the death of his third wife while investigators still try to resolve the disappearance of wife number four a few years ago.

READING THROUGH THE letter gives me a few cutesy details that appease the morbid side of my self-interest. For those who want to know, his cell in protective custody does not have bars. “I’m kept in solitary confinement on the reflective side of two-way glass,” he wrote.

And Peterson did make one observation that makes me wonder – “I haven’t figured out yet if I’m being protected from the other inmates or are they being protective from me?”

While I do realize there probably is some knucklehead currently incarcerated in the jail in Joliet who would think it proves him to be a “Big Man” if he were to shove a shank into Peterson’s back, I wonder how much Peterson’s treatment is so that Will County can avoid the embarrassment of letting something happen to him while he is in their custody.

Now I’ve already included more details from Peterson’s letter than I originally intended. Because my gut reaction to Peterson’s letter is different from the Internet-type commentary I am reading from people.

SOME ARE SICK enough to say publicly they want Peterson to be raped by other inmates, while others say it is insensitive to the public to give Peterson any kind of forum for communicating his thoughts.

My reaction is that this kind of copy seems like something from the days of The Front Page.

Those old-school days of Chicago journalism where being able to publish a real-life letter from a prominent inmate would have been regarded as a major coup for that particular newspaper – and one whose contents would have ensured that the Sun-Times would be having its copy picked up by newspapers across the nation as readers all over would lap up every little detail.

Now I’m sure that some people in the past would have expressed moral indignation at the idea of an inmate letter or diary. But I can’t help but sense we’re moving beyond that stage. Which makes me wonder if this latest column has the potential to cause embarrassment – although maybe not as much as the time then-Chicago broadcaster Giselle Fernandez got on board a speedboat with a convicted drug dealer to do a story about his final days of freedom.

BUT IT WILL be seen as a relic of the way that things used to be done? Which makes me wonder if Sneed is about to become the journalistic equivalent of old-school politicos like Dan Rostenkowski or George Ryan – whom some people argue were sent away to prison for engaging in hard-ball politics today the way they used to be done.

Or maybe that’s an over-reaction on my part.

Because we have enough of the “tabloid” television shows that give us graphic detail about all kind of sordid tales, and we the public seem to lap them up – demanding more while also issuing our meek denials about how offensive we found the whole experience to be. Which means we might not have changed as much as we want to believe we have.

For I have to admit the truth. As much as I want to believe I could care less about Peterson’s legal predicament, I read his whole letter that was published in the Sunday newspaper.