Saturday, July 30, 2011

Preckwinkle’s opposition to jail clogged by petty drug arrests is nothing new

PRECKWINKLE: No more cheap arrests
Anybody who is shocked and outraged that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle thinks many of the people who currently clog the county jail because of petty drug arrests hasn’t been paying attention.

Her relevation earlier this week that she has asked police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to have the Police Department reduce the amount of arrests it does for marijuana possession is so in line with her general rhetoric when it comes to crime and incarceration. It’s not surprising.

THOSE WHO WANT to claim outrage should consider that such a sentiment says more about you than it does about Preckwinkle.

Perhaps it is because I have handled reporter-type assignments where I have heard Preckwinkle talk about the conditions at Cook County Jail, which she thinks are miserable because the place is so overcrowded with people who really have no need to be kept locked away from the bulk of society.

The crowded conditions create an environment where those inmates who really do need to be locked up while their criminal cases are pending become harder to keep an eye on.

The end result is hazardous conditions for all.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, I heard Preckwinkle speak to school children in suburban South Holland. It may have been a Catholic school, but the gathering was almost entirely of African-American youths with an occasional Latino kid in the mix.

She told those kids of the statistics indicating the heavy racial minority composition of the jail population and how the current system means that those minority kids will have to behave extra careful in order to ensure that they don’t someday wind up in jail.

“That’s why it is particularly important for you to behave,” Preckwinkle said back in April. “Jail is not a place where you want yourself, or any of your friends, to be.”

But the reason it becomes so miserable, she has always said, is because of the large number of people who ought to be receiving something resembling treatment for their drug problems – rather than being locked away for drug possession.

THOSE ARRESTS FOR small amounts could even wind up becoming more serious drug problems while in jail, just because some people can only cope with the sordid conditions at 26th Street and California Avenue by using substances that numb their senses.

In light of the fact that she has expressed these views (which weren’t even terribly new when I heard them this spring) before, the idea that she’s now using her new government post (she hasn’t even been county board president for a full year yet) to try to influence people in positions of law enforcement authority merely seems like a logical act.

Which is why there are now reports all over Chicago and the Associated Press newswire is spreading the word across the nation about the Cook County politico who doesn’t want people arrested for drug possession.

“It’s pretty well-known within the criminal justice system that the judges will dismiss those charges for very modest amounts of illicit drugs,” Preckwinkle said earlier this week to reporter-types. “I suggested to (McCarthy) that the police might stop arresting people for this, since it clogs up our jail and their cases will be dismissed out anyway.”

AS ONE WHO has sat through many court proceedings throughout the years, I have seen the truth of this statement. The people who got picked up because a police officer discovered enough marijuana for a cigarette or two will get their cases dismissed – provided there aren’t some other factors (such as trying to get physically abusive with the cop) that come into play.

In fact, some suburbs already have decriminalized such small amounts of the drug to the point where someone who gets caught merely makes an appearance in municipal court to pay a fine for violating a local ordinance.

And one gets the strong impression that those municipalities are more interested in collecting the fines to bolster their local revenues than they are in putting up any image of protecting the morals of their communities.

Now I know some people find this kind of attitude offensive.

THEY WANT TO believe that pursuing even the smallest amounts of drug usage is making a bold stand for morals and decency, and that easing up in any sense is taking the “radical” step toward legalization of such drugs.

Which is over-bloated rhetorical nonsense.

Personally, I have no problem regarding someone who abuses drugs to the point where it takes over their lives in the same way I view an alcoholic. They need help. Perhaps the day will come when we see our various attempts at staging a “War on Drugs” as a failure just as much as the alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s.

If we are to move in that direction, we’re going to need more political people like Preckwinkle who are willing to view the issue in ways other than those meant to pander to the ideologues of our society – who themselves could probably care less about those using drugs, except to the degree that it gives them someone to rant and rage against.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Japanese baseballers not flowing to Chicago as much as to other ball clubs

Knowing the luck of Chicago baseball, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome is likely to go to the Cleveland Indians and become the integral piece that helps that team maintain a lead and actually win something this season.

Fukudome will live up to his potential once he’s no longer a member of the Chicago Cubs; since he was traded Thursday to the Indians for minor-league prospects.

IT BRINGS AN end to the Fukudome era in Chicago, since he was supposed to be the Japanese baseball star who would help make the Cubs a contender, while also making “history” in the sense that he’s the first Japanese ballplayer to play for the home team at Clark and Addison.

Japanese ballplayers are now a fixture in Major League Baseball. But it seems that our teams in Chicago have not had the luck in finding the star magnitude of an Ichiro Suzuki – the Seattle Mariners outfielder who may well become the first ballplayer to get inaugurated into the baseball Halls of Fame both in Cooperstown, N.Y., and in Japan.

Fukudome as a Cub wasn’t anywhere near that level. This season alone, he has a batting average of .273 and as one report indicated, his 13 runs batted in this season equal the $13 million he will be paid for playing baseball in 2011.

It’s quite a comedown from what was expected back in 2008 when baseball teams were in a bidding war for Fukudome and where the Chicago White Sox actually offered him more money than the Cubs did ($48 million for four seasons).

BUT ONE OF the reasons Fukudome gave back then for picking the North Side over the South Side was that he wanted to ensure he would be the first Japanese player ever for his respective team.

He wouldn’t have been that for the White Sox – who had their Japanese “first” in 2004 with relief pitcher Shingo Takatsu, then counted on infielder Tadahito Iguchi as their regular second baseman when they went on to win an American League championship and World Series title the following year.

Both of those ballplayers are long-gone from Chicago, and Iguchi probably gets the “honors” for the most significant Japanese ballplayer on a Chicago team.

Being part of one of the few championship ball clubs in Chicago sports history helps overcome the fact that he’s a lifetime .268 hitter (.278 with 74 runs scored and 71 runs batted in for that ’05 season) whose U.S. baseball career lasted four seasons.

FUKUDOME, BY COMPARISON, is a part of that ’08 National League division winner that managed to get knocked out of the playoffs with three straight losses. And that’s it.

Neither one of them would ever be mistaken for Hideki Matsui, the Oakland Athletics ballplayer who back when he was with the New York Yankees was the Most Valuable Player for the 2009 World Series (when the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies) and who earlier this season got public attention in some quarters when he hit his 500th home run (a combination of his time in U.S. baseball and with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan).

Which is why from my perspective, the most interesting ballplayer in Chicago to come out of Japan may well be Takatsu – who is one of the greatest relief pitchers ever in Japanese professional baseball and who continues to play ball in the Chinese Professional Baseball league.

He once had the record for saves in Japan, and likely will always have that 0.00 (as in perfect) Earned Run Average pitching in Japan Series games – which gave him that nickname “Mr. Zero.”

AND FOR A time, it seemed like he might do the same thing in Chicago when he signed with the White Sox in 2004. Something about that sidearm delivery that could throw effective pitches at 61 m.p.h. was intriguing to watch.

For that first season, it even was effective (19 saves, an ERA of 2.31, 50 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings pitched), although perhaps because it was a novelty.

He wasn’t nearly as effective in 2005, and was released by the White Sox in mid-season. Then again, maybe it was his age (he was a 35-year-old “rookie” when he broke in with the White Sox), which was the main reason that other teams weren’t interested in signing him – despite his Japanese accomplishments.

A part of me can still hear in my mind the echo of that silly gong that would ring at U.S. Cellular Field every time Takatsu would enter a game. What will Cubs fans remember of Fukudome?

I HOPE IT’S not that school official at Elgin High School who made a student remove her Cubs jersey because Fukudome’s name was somehow interpreted to mean a particularly foul obscenity?

Then again, having a ballplayer whose legacy was to be thought of as a dirty word would be so typically Chicago Cub-ish.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

EXTRA: Does Raja have the Latino vote?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: The Latino choice?
Raja Krishnamoorthi is the suburban candidate for Congress who has the fundraising ability, but a significant lack of name recognition compared to his opponent, in his bid to fill what will be an empty seat in Illinois’ congressional delegation in next year’s election cycle.

So perhaps it is only natural for Krishnamoorthi to boast of a new group willing to back his bid against Tammy Duckworth in next year’s Democratic primary elections – going so far as  to issue a statement on Thursday.

WE LITERALLY NOW have a “Latinos for Raja” committee saying it is willing to support Krishnamoorthi – who hopes to become the first Asian to represent a part of Illinois in Congress (although Duckworth would achieve the same “first” if she wins election next November).

Yes, Latinos are a fast-growing group (just over 2 million of Illinois’ 12 million residents have their ethnic origins in Latin American nations), and we are everywhere. Although the new Illinois Eighth Congressional district isn’t exactly a hot-spot for the Latino population (the suburban district is roughly 23 percent Latino – not a majority by any means).

But at this stage of the campaign, Raja will take support wherever he can get it.

Even from a group of 60 Latinos who, quite frankly, have no individual name recognition of their own. There aren’t any heavy-hitter politicos in the group backing Krishnamoorthi.

THEN AGAIN, PERHAPS it is by banding together that these Latino voters will gain some political influence. Just like every other group (even the Irish) that attempts to advance ethnic or racial interests when it comes to electoral politics.

Strength in numbers.

Besides, if this really does become a long, drawn-out political brawl (and NOT like the poll that shows Duckworth leading Krishnamoorthi 69 percent to eight), then perhaps it will be an early showing of Latino support that could wind up swinging this election one way or another.


Do Peterson prosecutors top Blagojevich when it comes to whiny nature?

Today’s lesson in legal whining and nonsense is presented to us courtesy of the prosecutors in Will County who are taking on the case of “putting away” former Bolingbrook cop Drew Peterson.
PETERSON: A body-blow for prosecutors

They’re the ones who are upset that an Illinois appellate court this week ruled that they can’t use hearsay evidence in their case against Peterson, who faces criminal charges related to the death of wife number three (and whom some are convinced caused wife number four to “disappear”).

NOT THAT THEY’RE respecting the appeals court’s decision. Will County officials say they’re seriously thinking of asking the Illinois Supreme Court to get involved and overturn the appeals court panel.

Now I can comprehend why prosecutors are upset. This ruling will make it more difficult for them to get a conviction against Peterson. Heck, his attorneys are going around telling the newspapers that this ruling will result in his acquittal.

And if that happens, the people who are all worked up over Casey Anthony’s acquittal in a Florida courtroom will go back to treating her like the “nothing” that she is. Because they will have a new target for their outrage.

There are those people who want Drew Peterson to suffer every indignity imaginable. I’m sure they also are among those who will think the Will County prosecutors are somehow being picked upon.

YET A PART of me has a problem with the legal strategy that was being used by prosecutors against Peterson. If anything, the appeals court panel that ruled against prosecutors was merely upholding a strict interpretation of the “letter of the law.”

Nobody should have a problem with that.

BLAGOJEVICH: Has he been topped?

So what is the great controversy involving Peterson’s prosecution? The problem for prosecutors is that there is little hard evidence to support the idea that Peterson killed his third wife – whose death at one time was officially classified as accidental.

It was only when the public outcry over the disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife grew to national scales that local officials “reinvestigated” the death of wife number three, and reclassified it as a homicide. That led to the charges that now are pending against Peterson, and result in him living for the past couple of years at the Will County Jail in Joliet.

PROSECUTORS WANT TO use letters from the two women that contain statements that, if interpreted in a certain context, could be construed as suspicious.

But they are regarded as “second-hand” statements and inadmissible because the women aren’t present to explain for themselves just what they meant. Which means that it would be evidence that Peterson could not properly refute during a trial.

He wouldn’t be able to cross-examine the letter-writers.

Which is why eight such statements have been stricken from use as evidence during any future trial of Peterson, and why prosecutors had hoped the appeals court panel would be more sympathetic.


So now, we have the prosecutors in Will County upset because they are confronted with the fact that the physical evidence against Peterson is weak. This case could crumble, and the wrath of the nation could soon turn on them for failing to get a “guilty” verdict against Drew.

Which on the one hand would be bad because that man’s bloated ego would surely go about for the rest of his life believing he was unjustly wronged – and he’ll ensure we all have to listen to the misery he suffered.

But we have the system of justice based in that presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. If prosecutors can’t prove it, then the right thing is to move on.

INSTEAD, WE’RE GOING to hear continued whining about how the prosecutors aren’t being allowed to do their job – even if they have to rely on flawed “evidence” to do so. That is just wrong.

If anything, it bothers me even more than Rod Blagojevich’s whining earlier this week that the judge in his political corruption case is being mean to him – thereby requiring a new trial.

Anytime somebody’s behavior starts becoming comparable to that of Blagojevich, you know there’s a serious problem and that you should probably ease up.

Instead, we get people pushing for changes such as Drew’s Law, a measure that would make hearsay testimony acceptable in Illinois if a judge is willing to approve it.

THAT MEASURE IS just about as absurd as the Florida people who now want Caylee’s Law (making it a felony for a parent not to report their child missing within 24 hours).

Either way, it’s over-reaction, which may be the ultimate evidence that our judicial system has a certain warped balance. There is evidence that defendants , prosecutors AND outside observers are capable of behaving in a silly manner


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blagojevich becoming oh so predictable

The sad part of the predicament facing former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is that it has become so predictable.
BLAGOJEVICH: Being picked on?

Attorneys for Blagojevich filed motions late Monday that seek a new trial – even though he has yet to be sentenced for the 18 charges (don’t forget the one conviction from his first trial) upon which he has been found “guilty.”

HIS PROFOUND ARGUMENT for thinking he’s entitled to another “do over” in court? It basically comes down to the level of, “the judge is picking on me.” My eight-year-old nieces make more convincing arguments.

Which is not a legal argument that I think U.S. District Judge James Zagel will take the least bit seriously. We all fully expect he will reject this line of thought and will proceed with sentencing – giving Blagojevich some time in prison where he likely will have to spend time while his real legal appeal takes place.

By that, I mean the appeals that ultimately go to the Court of Appeals circuit based in Chicago, then up to the Supreme Court of the United States (if that high court is willing to take on the case).

That ultimately is where Blagojevich’s fate will be resolved, and where any argument about whether the flaws committed during the trial are so profound that they warrant either a new sentencing – or an outright new trial.

THE ONLY SIGNIFICANCE to this first appeal is that it gives us the idea of what direction Blagojevich’s later legal appeals will take. Which means this is going to be purely a personality conflict.

It is going to claim that Zagel was so determined to have a trial that ended in significant verdicts of “guilty” that he went too far in his pre-trial rulings; hemming in the defense with so many restrictions that they were never able to get at the “truth.”

Only the version of the “truth” that prosecutors desired – which is the equivalent of the defendant admitting he’s a piece of political pond scum who seriously deserves the full 300 years that Blagojevich theoretically could get, and where anything less of a sentence would be an overgenerous show of compassion.

Yes, I personally do believe that the whole Blagojevich legal saga has become something taking on elements of a witch hunt, in which the public mood of those people who can’t stand Milorod is swaying the process to the point where there never was a chance that he could be acquitted of anything.

IF HE HAD been, we’d have a societal mood that would proclaim Blagojevich and Casey Anthony to be the perfect couple – to have to go into hiding and take on aliases in our society to ensure their very survival.

But I don’t think any Blagojevich appeal that focuses so intently on “the judge is picking on me” as its basis is going to succeed.

Zagel will reject it, and I am skeptical that the justices on the eventual three-member appeals panel that will hear his case will be inclined to trash one of their judicial colleagues – particularly not on behalf of Rod Blagojevich.

And I could easily see the Supreme Court of the United States seeing this appeal as a personality squabble, instead of some case involving great legal issues that must be resolved for our nation to continue to survive as we know it.

BECAUSE WHAT THIS appeal consists of as its “great legal issue” (heavy sarcasm intended) is that Zagel ruled too often in favor of prosecutors. That shows his bias.

By that standard, just about any criminal defendant could argue that their respective conviction is flawed. Because the judges are a part of the process. It is all too common that the types of people who want to get into enforcing and interpreting the law are going to do so in a manner meant to uphold the status quo.
ZAGEL: Doubtful he'll rule he unfair to Blagojevich

The true revolutionaries who want to overturn it are going to work a few steps outside of the process.

Then, there are the silly types like Blagojevich – who even in his earliest political days as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from the Ravenswood and Lincoln Square neighborhoods showed traces of trivial thought in the way he approached public policy and politics.

PERHAPS IT IS only natural that their legal motions are going to reek of the same sense of triviality. It’s just a shame that it means that once we work our way through the process in which prosecutors have to file written responses to Blagojevich’s claims before Zagel can officially rule on/reject it, the outcome will truly be that predictable.

And it will be some time before the name “Blagojevich” becomes a forgettable footnote to our political scene.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Something stinks. That’s the partisanship

Gov. Pat Quinn deserves some points for honesty.
QUINN: In a rough spot

He told reporter-types on Monday how the reason he gave his approval to the proposed budget for state government’s current fiscal year was that he didn’t want to get Republican political officials any more involved in negotiations than they already were.

IT WAS A political move. We all knew that, deep down. Now we know for sure.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Quinn told reporters that he feared Republican legislators would use the opportunity to play political games of their own, and that he thought it best to keep them out as much as possible.

What makes that possible is that state law requires a budget to be approved before the state fiscal year begins on July 1. Which is why Quinn on June 30 signed into law the budget approved by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Had he not done so, the state laws that require a larger vote of support to pass something into law would have taken effect. Which would have meant the Democratic majorities in the Illinois House of Representatives and state Senate would not have been able to do whatever they wanted, and that Republican votes would have been needed to pass something.

NOW SOME WILL make ideological arguments that Republican legislators should have been given more of a say. The GOP’s legislative aides are going around saying they would have demanded changes (in the form of spending cuts) that would have been better for the people of Illinois.

Although I’m also convinced of one other fact. I believe many of the “cuts” that Republican officials would have sought would have been moves made purely for politically-partisan reasons.

It would have been the Grover Norquist theory of government. He’s the D.C.-based ideologue who is known for, among other things, saying, “I simply want to reduce (government) to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

So those people who want to use Quinn’s comments to try to claim that Democrats are now playing partisan political games with the state’s finances ought to pipe down. Those people have ideologues on their own side who are more than willing to play the same games.

SO I KIND of respect Quinn for wanting to move forward; giving his signature of support to the budget even though he knew it had its flaws – primarily that it does not provide enough money to make it through this fiscal year (the one that ends June 30, 2012).

There are those who believe (and I wonder if they have a point) that the fact that Quinn is admitting there isn’t enough money to cover the state’s funds will be used against his attempt to get out of the contractually-mandated pay raises that also were supposed to take effect on July 1.

Is it really the state workers’ fault that the budget is in a shortfall? Or is it the partisan political nature of the Legislature that created a budget that was flawed?

It’s not like these partisan games are limited to the budget process.

I HONESTLY BELIEVE the same reasoning explains why Quinn gave his approval to the legislative and Congressional boundaries drawn by the Democrat-run General Assembly. They may have their flaws, but not signing them would result in even more political games had the Republican

Yes, the situation stinks. But we really have developed a generation of political people who believe that “responsible behavior” consists of a hard-edged attitude that refuses to give in – as though one’s isolated constituent pool is the only group that matters.

For every person who says what a shame it is that our political people can’t compromise, there are ideologues who believe that “compromise” IS the problem. They’ll even be the ones who will then resort to that old Ronald Reagan quotable: “Government is not the solution, … government is the problem.”

I’d argue government becomes the problem when the ideologues run amok. In large part because they force people like Gov. Quinn into having to make crummy decisions that prolong our suffering.

ALTHOUGH I DO have to admit that this situation with Quinn is something of an improvement, because it shows Quinn as having a practical side to his nature.

By that, I mean that Quinn isn’t taking some stance and sticking so firmly to it, consequences be damned.

If the GOP wants to be taken more seriously, they need to focus their attention on winning elections and gaining more representatives. Just as it is difficult to argue about the behavior of Congress these days – where the conservative ideologues won a sizable share of the House of Representatives to have some legitimate say. For Republicans to gain some say in Springfield these days, they're going to have to win a share of representation. That's just the way things are in the real world.

Would we, the people of Illinois, really be better off right now if Quinn had rejected the budget, and we were now seeing our state government shut down because Republican politicos were eager to assert their authority after having been ignored all spring?

YOU’RE EITHER A fool or a liar if you say “Yes.” Because that was the kind of stubborn streak that Rod Blagojevich showed during his six years in office in dealing with the Illinois Legislature.

Remember those delays of the early aughts that would cause springtime Legislative issues to take all summer to resolve? I don’t think anybody wants those days back.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Wrigley no more?

Two of the best-known structures in Chicago are the Wrigley Building and Wrigley Field.

So what does it say that after next year, the William Wrigley Jr. Co. won’t have any connection to either building?

TIME PASSES. THINGS change. Nothing is permanent, not even our memories – which wither away with the passage of the years.

Now the Wrigleys haven’t had anything to do with the Chicago Cubs or their Lakeview neighborhood stadium for three decades when the family sold the ballclub (but got the Tribune Co. to agree to keep the old name – sparing us the abomination of seeing bad baseball played at Tribune Park).

Last week, the Wrigley company made it known that it was doing away with their skyscraper (although by modern construction standards, Wrigley merely tickles the sky) corporate offices on Michigan Avenue. They plan to have everybody who works for the company out of the structure (which never fails to amuse me all the times it appears in the background of those "M Squad" re-runs starring Lee Marvin as rough-tough Chicago cop Frank Ballinger) by the end of next year.

There will be generations of Chicagoans who will always think of the white tower on the northern shore of the Chicago River as the Wrigley Building, even though there won’t really be anything “Wrigley” about it.

JUST AS I’M sure that when the day comes that the Chicago Cubs undertake the major overhaul of their stadium to ensure it can remain in use for decades to come, it will keep the “Wrigley” name.

It must be nice to be a company so well entrenched in the image of Chicago that its name will live on in these structures long after they have fallen into other corporate hands.

It will help that Wrigley isn’t leaving Chicago. In fact, they have already completed much of their corporate shift away from the Near North Side to the fringes of the Lincoln Park neighborhood at Goose Island.

Wrigley built a corporate campus at that site nearly a decade ago, and already has much of its staff working out of that plant. The newly-announced move is merely a completion of the shift.

IT MAY ALSO make sense in getting away from a structure that is very much a product of early 20th Century Chicago. The very need to be in downtown Chicago is a concept some consider to be obsolete – perhaps those same people who boast that the new Wrigley campus includes a physical fitness center (a.k.a., a gym) for employee use.

I’m not ridiculing that concept just because my own physique clearly shows I could afford to spend more time in a gymnasium (or perhaps on a running track).

It’s just that I feel a slight twinge of nostalgia at the thought that Wrigley (as in company) won’t be at Wrigley (as in building) for much longer.

The Wrigley Building will get some Chicagoans who will be stubborn and keep referring to it by that name – regardless of what the structure winds up being called officially (just as some insist on referring to the city’s tallest building as the Sears Tower; and consider that official name to be a virtual curse word).

BUT EVENTUALLY, WE’LL get younger generations who will let it wither away. That fact may well be natural. Time passes. Nothing is permanent.

Considering the speculation that the structure may be turned (at least in part) into high-priced residences (the Wrigley condos?), I wonder if some future resident will have a clue as to the dealings that once occurred in the room they will someday sleep in.
One other thought pops into my head – the fact that when a song was crafted for Frank Sinatra to sing about Chicago in the film “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” one of the two places specifically cited in “My Kind of Town” was the Wrigley Building (with the Union Stockyards being the other).

The stockyards departed the South Side some four decades ago. After next year, the Wrigley Building may be gone too.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

No air?!? Hiding from the humidity. Or will Marilyn’s heat burn their lips?

I happened to be at a government building in the Chicago suburbs this week when one of the local aldermen walked up to me and whispered in my ear that he had a “scoop” for me.

His city is in the process of putting together its budget for the current fiscal year, and he said that one way to save a whole heck of a lot of money would be to totally eliminate the budgetary line item that pays for air conditioning.

“JUST THINK OF how much money we’re spending right now,” he quipped.

Now I say “quipped” because I realize that particular alderman was joking. There’s no way that government building – or any building, for that matter – would have been bearable this week had it not had the air conditioning running.

At that particular moment, I had just entered the suburban City Hall and was soaked with sweat because of the walk from my car parked a half-block away and the building. At that particular moment, temperatures were so high that the heat index was registering just under 100 degrees.

It was hot. And it was humid. A combination that results in a disgusting feel to the air, an uncomfortable feel to the skin and the potential for people to become serious ill if they have some stubborn streak that makes them think of air conditioning as some sort of evil.

IT SEEMS THAT we have learned the Lessons of 1995, when for a couple of weeks that summer temperatures and conditions reached such intense levels that I once heard someone describe the situation by saying that for those weeks, Chicago became Saudi Arabia.

Because I haven’t heard tons of stories of mass fatalities around the Chicago area. Although the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if both Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some advance warning that let them know this was the perfect week to schedule trips taking them out of the Midwest (Emanuel in New York, and Quinn in Israel).

Perhaps it means that we’re doing a better job of being aware of the dangers, and that we’re checking up more thoroughly on those individuals in our society who might otherwise be at risk.

In fact, a part of me has thought this week about my mother, who passed away last year just before Thanksgiving. She would have been miserable this week, and I’m sure the heat would have left her feeling weak.

A PART OF me is thankful that she is not suffering from the heat and humidity, or having to endure what all of us coped with this past week.

Personally, I spent as much time as I could indoors – usually as close as I possibly could to a fan. As I write this commentary Friday night, I have a fan blowing about four feet to my right.

It is keeping the air circulating sufficiently that I feel comfortable (although the fan’s built-in thermometer tells me the current temperature in this room is 86 degrees). When one considers that I also have a bottle of water chilled cold about two feet to the left of me that I routinely reach for to take a sip now and then, I can’t complain too much right now.

But I’m well aware of the fact that many people have to do their work outdoors in the brunt of the heat. Heck, the couple of reporter-type assignments I have undertaken that forced me outside left me in a serious need for a change of clothes and a quick shower once I got home.

WHICH MEANS I did my part to contribute to excess water use. Although the alternative would have been to sleep in my sweat and stink.

Then again, I had it better than my brother, Chris, who on his job this week was shifted to a rare week of overnight (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) shifts.

Some might mistakenly think he escaped the brunt of the heat, since it meant he was asleep in an air conditioned room throughout the days. Yet this was a week so ridiculously hot that even overnight, the heat index was still in the 90s.

When added to the fact that he works in a place that typically is hot, even in mid-winter, there simply was no escaping this heat wave.

BUT THEN I think back to Feb. 1-2 and the nearly two feet of snowfall we got hit with in a 24-hour period. I still recall having to help my brother push his car through the snow when it became stuck in a drift. And I wonder how many people total suffered serious injury because emergency crews had trouble getting to them because of all that snow.

I hate snow even more than I despise the heat.

In fact, there’s only one bit of this heat that I have to admit I find humorous – the fact that this is the first week of that hideous-looking Marilyn Monroe statue on Michigan Avenue. I understand that many people are posing in front of the statue, having their photographs taken while groping or kissing Marilyn’s thighs.

Let those juvenile buffoons kiss her all they want. Maybe it means they’ll burn their lips.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Rahm kept his “promise”

Regardless of what side of the equation you come down on when it comes to public school versus private school, there’s one thing we can say about Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
EMANUEL: Sending his kids to the South Side

He didn’t lie to us back during the campaign season.

EMANUEL TOOK CRITICISM last year when he said he and his wife, Amy Rule, were considering sending their three children to private schools in the city, rather than have them attend a school in the Chicago Public Schools system.

Now, it’s no longer being considered. It is fact. Both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times used their websites to report Thursday that the three Emanuel kids – who finished the old school year in Washington, D.C. – will transfer this fall to the Lab School that is affiliated with the University of Chicago.

Much is being made of the fact that the Lab School is the same school that Barack and Michelle Obama sent their daughters to, back before he got elected president and they moved to Washington.

But that school has been around and included so many more among its alumni (retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, former Paramount Studios head Sherry Lansing and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, just to name a few) that it has become an integral part of the city’s character.

I REALLY CAN’T say I’d blame Emanuel for wanting his children to attend that school.

But there are those who now want to lambast the mayor for not showing a sign of faith in the Chicago Public Schools by sending his children there.

I couldn’t help but notice the Sun-Times account included quotes from former mayoral opponent Gery Chico criticizing Emanuel, reminding us that this was a campaign issue.

Although I have to admit that hearing a repeat of his criticism, along with his reminder that he and his daughters attended schools in the Chicago Public Schools system, came across as sour grapes.

I’D HOPE THAT Chico isn’t still feeling this intense about the issue. If he did, it would say something more negative about Chico than it does about Emanuel.

Personally, I don’t think many people in Chicago are going to hold it against Rahm. Unless they’re the kind of people who for politically partisan reasons want to trash him. In which case, it wouldn’t have mattered where he sent his kids to school.

The fact is that for people who are determined to live in Chicago no matter what the circumstances, the whole “public” versus “private” debate is one they carry out in their own families.

In fact, a part of me has always wondered if the quintessential Chicago “experience” also has to include a stint in a private school – most likely one run by the Catholic Archdiocese in Chicago.

IT JUST SEEMS that, whether for religious reasons or other factors, a lot of people decide to pick educational alternatives for their children other than the Chicago Public Schools.

Which is a problem for the city. Because those schools can cost money, and not everybody is capable of affording the tuition. Many don’t even want to hear the word “tuition” until it is time to think of paying to send their children to some sort of college.

If anything, that is the reason why the suburban part of the Chicago area is twice as large as the city proper. Many parents wanted that public school option, and felt that it was only doable (and affordable) in a suburb.

It creates the phenomenon of parents desperately trying to move to select suburbs that happen to be included in school districts that are more respectable. Perhaps if the Chicago Public Schools were more respectable overall, we wouldn’t have so many young parents with four-year-olds deciding it is time to leave Chicago proper.

IT IS FOR that reason that Emanuel ought to be making a priority of trying to work with the Chicago Public Schools to improve their overall quality. That ultimately is what will keep more people in the city. I don’t necessarily see it as being hypocritical that Emanuel talks of wanting to improve public education, while sending his own children to private schools.

If anything, the Chicago experience is that mixture of people who were educated both “public” and “private.” There are advantages to each.

And while there are some interesting programs within the Chicago Public School system that offer students opportunities to learn, there simply aren’t enough quality slots for the large student body.

Which is what creates the masses of public school students who are sloughing along in mediocrity. And which is what needs to be addressed, and resolved.

IN FACT, THERE’S really only one issue I have with the idea of Emanuel’s kids attending the Hyde Park neighborhood school.

Personally, I welcome them to the South Side (even though one can argue that Hyde Park is really a world in-and-of itself). But if the Emanuel family plans to keep living in that Ravenswood neighborhood home that just recently became vacant (their renter finally left), that is going to be a long haul for those three kids every day.

Unless there will be some sort of mayoral driver with a city-owned car transporting those kids half-way across the city to get them to school. In which case, THAT would become the controversy.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Now the courts get their say about new political boundaries across Illinois

Let’s be honest.

What bothers Republican Party establishment officials about the new legislative and congressional boundaries is that they reflect the growing influence of Chicago deeper and deeper into the suburbs.

ALL THOSE DISTRICTS that start within the city limits and extend out to Will or DuPage counties can be argued to reflect the modern reality. People with city origins are moving farther and farther out into the suburbs and are keeping some of their old urban ways with them. Isolating Chicago is not only silly, it’s wrong.

All the rhetoric being spewed by GOP officials about how the Democrats who gained complete control of the redistricting process this time around and used it to inhibit Latino and African-American voters is just a lot of trash.

I have expressed this thought before, and am expressing it again because of the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago that challenges the new Illinois Legislature boundaries. A companion lawsuit that challenges the new Illinois Congressional boundaries is expected to be filed in coming days.

I’m hoping that the courts ultimately strike down this lawsuit because the stink of all its legalese reeks more harshly than limburger cheese.

THE BOTTOM LINE is that the process of reapportionment, as outlined in the Illinois Constitution, gave Democratic officials control of the process, and they used it to their advantage – just as Republican officials would have done had they managed to gain any say over what happened.

So unless one can find that the process was violated, the legal merits of this lawsuit are minimal. The fact that one political party got dumped on in and of itself isn’t reason to overturn the new boundaries.

The Republican-inspired lawsuit tries to make claims that non-white people will suffer politically. It claims that two more Illinois House districts could have been turned into ones that favor African-American chances of electing legislators, while as many as six districts could have been drawn differently to favor Latino chances of increased political empowerment.

But I couldn’t help but notice that none of the major groups that usually have experts who could knowledgably talk about such issues are having anything to do with this lawsuit.

THE LATINOS AND black people who are supportive of this particular lawsuit are independent – as in they don’t have ties to anybody. For all I know, they have personal grudges against the groups and are willing to align themselves with the GOP label this time around if it helps them gain something for themselves.

They shouldn’t be taken to speak on behalf of Latinos (or black people) as a whole.

Now I don’t doubt that the people who ultimately designed the legislative and congressional districts had self-preservation in mind when they created these political boundaries.

I am aware that some of the biggest names of the white ethnic political establishment (Madigan, Burke, Lipinski) will be representing districts that contain significant numbers of Latinos. With a few changes, those districts could have been improved – but only at the risk of that establishment.

BUT LET’S JUST say that I doubt the sincerity of those who are challenging this establishment.

Perhaps it is because I remember the redistricting process for the 1990s – the one period that Republicans gained control.

They talked all high-minded about how the first thing they did was drew the African-American leaning districts, then prepared the rest of the state around them.

But what they really did was drew those districts in ways that caused political strife within the city, then drew the rest of the districts in ways that “hemmed in” Chicago proper, as though they didn’t want its ways spreading to the rest of the state.

WHICH MEANT THAT the minority (as in racial) districts were included in areas that were meant to be relegated to the minority (as in political) party.

I’m sure that the GOP establishment is willing to see another black or Latino legislator or two, so long as they are part of a minority political party that has no say in the way things operate.

Because what truly bothers them are those districts that stretch out from the edges of Chicago into the suburbs. But like I wrote before, that is just a reflection of reality.

Chicago, the city, isn’t growing. But Chicago the metropolitan area is, and into places that once would have been thought of as too distant to be urban. Penning the city up and trying to keep its influence out is not a reflection of reality.

AND AS FOR all those Republican elected officials who were put into new districts where they will have to run against one of their incumbent GOP colleagues, I’m sure any GOP-approved map would invariably have put some Democratic officials against each other come the 2012 election cycle.

That’s just one of the realities of electoral politics.

It certainly isn’t a legitimate enough reason to justify having a three-judge panel get involved in overturning the maps – unless the courts want to get themselves involved in allegations that they are playing partisan politics in Illinois.