Saturday, March 31, 2012

Give it a rest, already!

It has been nearly 18 years since the date that I went into the old Stateville Correctional Center to watch a homicide committed in the name of “justice” – as in the execution by lethal injection of John Gacy.

That date was some 16 years after Gacy went from being a respectable citizen who once met first lady Rosalyn Carter (left) and was a clown at children’s parties, to the guy who abducted and killed young men and stuffed their remains in the crawl space of his home.

AND SOME OF those incidents were nearly a decade old by the time police got around to arresting Gacy.

My point? This is an old case, one so old that I question how much of the physical “evidence” remains in a state solid enough to be worth anything to a credible investigation.

So I really have to wonder what the point is in terms of any law enforcement entity thinking that there is more to be found at this late date some two score after the original incidents.

Which is why I was kind of pleased to read the reports on Friday about how the Cook County state’s attorney is refusing to let the county sheriff do some more digging at sites where they think more bodies, more remains or more evidence could be found.

OFFICIALLY, THERE ISN’T enough “probable cause” to believe that anything would be found by such digging.

Although I believe even if they found “something,” it would be so weak that it wouldn’t be worth the effort.

So excuse me for thinking that the idea of continuing to investigate the “crimes” of John Gacy is something amounting to a waste of time. I’d like to think our law enforcement people have more important things to worry about.

Perhaps there are some unsolved cases that could get their attention, rather than delving into a case where the prosecution took place more than three decades ago and where the ultimate punishment has already been served.

DOES ANYONE THINK Gacy will come back to life so he could be put on trial again?

Even if that were physically possible, it’s not like we have a death penalty in this state any longer. And propping up the corpse of John Gacy in a prison cell for eternal incarceration strikes me as being even more incredibly twisted than continued investigation.

Heck, would Gacy corpse tampering qualify for prosecution under the bill being reviewed by the Illinois General Assembly this spring that makes necrophilia a crime? Because it would be corpse tampering!

But let’s get serious.

WE MAY WELL have to accept the fact that we already know all we’re ever going to know about the Gacy crimes. Too much time has passed for us to figure out the remaining unknown details.

Evidence deteriorates with time. Which may well have been the ultimate strategy of William Heirens, the longest-serving Illinois inmate who died earlier this month for a trio of slayings in 1946.

He claimed in recent years that he “didn’t do it” and that he was pressured into making the confession that prosecutors threw in his face every time he sought parole. Perhaps he thought that the fingerprints and lipstick smudges on mirrors didn’t mean as much now that they didn’t physically exist anymore.

If you want the truth, it wouldn’t shock me to learn that someone, someday tries to argue for the innocence of John Gacy himself. Not that I expect anyone of any real sense to buy into it.

BUT I WOULD give such a legal effort about as much credibility as I would any further results found in an investigation into Gacy’s guilt.
DART: Idle time?

Even if the latest effort is being inspired by a now-retired Chicago cop who claims he recalls seeing Gacy once with a shovel digging in a certain area – the area that officials checked in 1998, found nothing of substance, but want to check again.

It all comes off as too much of an effort to get one’s name in the papers (or in the 21st Century, one’s name all over the Internet search functions).

Does Tom Dart really need any more public attention? Perhaps we should focus our attention on trying to find things for him to do that will keep him busy.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Good, or bad, for Mitt-men? What does it say about us as an electorate?

A new poll released this week makes me feel both good, and bad, about our society these days.
ROMNEY: Not inspiring our awe

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press says that a majority of those whom they questioned didn’t have the slightest idea what “Etch-a-Sketch” meant in conjunction with Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations.

I’M SURE ROMNEY is breathing a sigh of relief!

For while some want to believe that the view he will try to remake himself ideologically come the general election cycle (ie., September and October) from the would-be ideologue he is acting like now will doom his campaign, that poll found 55 percent of people had not heard a word about this controversy (sparked by an aide to Romney who said the candidate would redo his image just like a kid with an Etch-A-Sketch toy).

It could be that the numbskull remark that some people (including Romney challenger Rick Santorum himself) want to blow up into a controversy is just too trivial for “the American people” to pay any attention to.

That would be a plus. That would be a sign that we have a thinking electorate.

THEN AGAIN, THAT would be a big assumption in-and-of itself. It could be a flawed one, particularly based off of other portions of the same poll – which brought up various issues and tries to gauge how much people really care about them.

For it seems one of the things they really don’t care much about is the ongoing presidential election cycle.
OBAMA: Winner by default?

Because 58 percent of the people surveyed said they think the election cycle that officially began with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary (but which unofficially is more than a year old already) is “too long.”

Even among the Republicans who supposedly are being stirred up and motivated by the fact that their political party has a competitive primary – unlike the Democratic Party where the nomination convention to be held in Charlotte, N.C., will be nothing more than a coronation for Barack, the Second (as in term), 64 percent think the cycle is “too long.”


Only 38 percent of people surveyed find it “interesting,” compared to 52 percent who think it “dull.” Even 42 percent of Republicans think the election cycle is “dull,” which is bad because a majority of everybody else (including 56 percent of the political independents who supposedly decide elections) are bored.

Part of it is because we have a short attention-span society. But what does it say about us that we can’t even fake some interest in the process by which our nation picks its new chief executive for the next four years?

Heck, the ongoing saga concerning the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin is being followed “most closely” by more people than those who want to know about the latest campaign activity.

THAT FIGURE REALLY spikes up among African-American people, where 52 percent of those questioned said Martin was the top story, compared to only 13 percent who think the election is a bigger deal.

Then again, there also were 6 percent of black people and 9 percent of white people who thought the “top story” was the New Orleans Saints and the punishments being received by certain team officials, including coach Sean Payton, for the thuggery on-field that was being disguised as aggressive athletic play.

So what does all this really say?

Romney’s supposed gaffe that would bring down his campaign has been largely ignored, because “the American people” could care less about the campaign cycle in general.

WHICH MAY BE the best news of all for Obama these days – who is having to cope with speculation that the health care reform measure riddled with political compromise is so flawed that the Supreme Court of the United States will strike it down.
McCAIN: Romney makes him look solid

Because if it seems that nobody cares about the election cycle these days, it is because Romney and the other dwarfs are not grabbing the attention of the public.

Which may well mean that the disgust that the ideological conservatives feel for Obama is such a small sentiment that enough people will vote for his re-election come Nov. 6.

And while a “win” may be a win regardless of how it is achieved, it would be such a far cry from the “hope” and “change” of 2008 if an Obama victory this time around came about due to a challenger who was even less awe-inspiring than John McCain was that year.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

A hoodie for Bobby? Or a different type of ‘hood’ for his political opponents?

I have to confess; I have never understood the difference between a “hoodie” and a hooded sweatshirt. As far as I can tell, they’re essentially the same thing – except that the “hoodie” will have some sort of brand name that retailers will use to justify charging significantly more money than just a regular sweatshirt.
RUSH: A revolutionary, again?

In fact, I view the idea of a “hoodie” the same way that a certain generation views the idea of drinking bottled water – why buy it from the store when you can get it “for free” (although not really) from the tap?

SO THE IDEA that the “hoodie” is now becoming some sort of symbol for justice and freedom from persecution is incredibly laughable to me, and the idea that it can be offensive to some is so pathetic.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., (who I must admit is my member of Congress) shows us that even though he has suffered a stroke and is 65, he still has a touch of that “revolutionary” spirit that once inspired him to wear a black beret and claim to be head of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.

For a really funny story, you should hear Rush himself explain to you just how he happened to come by that title.

But for a pathetic story, you should consider what happened to Rush when – on Wednesday – he chose to wear a “hoodie” on the floor of the House of Representatives while getting into the mood of making a speech in memoriam to Trayvon Martin – who was killed by a neighborhood-watch type in Sanford, Fla., last month while wearing a similar hood.

SOME MIGHT SAY that Rush’s actions were a lame gesture of protest. On a certain level, I’d agree. There’s nothing revolutionary about a “hoodie.” Particularly when pro basketball sensation (and local guy done good) Dwyane Wade can wear one on a basketball court last week and be regarded as "heroic."

Yet the political opposition certainly took it as revolutionary. It was Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., who brought up the point of order that a hood was not a part of the official dress code of the House of Representatives. Although if you ever saw the way some political people dress,  you’d realize that a “hoodie” is far from a fashion offense.
HARPER; Matching the stereotype?

When Rush tried proceeding with his speech despite the Harper nonsense rhetoric, he ultimately got removed by force -- as in being escorted off as though he were some intruder, instead of a two-decade member.

What is it about a “hoodie,” which in a certain fashion sense looks stupid, that can get people so worked up? I ask that particularly since it seems that “hoodies” are truly a multi-racial garb of clothing. It’s not just a black “thing” any more. Anybody who seriously thinks of it in that way is being foolish. And I use that word deliberately.

FOR IF ANYONE is going to come across looking foolish because of this incident, it is Harper. It is such a gross over-reaction.

If anything, he has confirmed for all of us to see the concept that a certain segment of our society makes irrational assumptions when they see the “hoodie.”
This incident on Wednesday became something that will gain national notoriety because of Harper. Had he just kept his mouth shut and Rush had been allowed to continue his rhetorical ramblings, chances are this moment would have received no more than a few seconds of mention on a few broadcast news programs – before the public attention moved on. It might have even warranted a “Daily Show” laugh at Rush’s expense.

It certainly would not have become a moment that likely will gain significance in the Bobby Rush life story as a time when he stood up for the people and against irrationality and prejudice, and a reason for Jon Stewart to take off on Harper.

IF SOME PEOPLE have ideological hang-ups that will cause them to believe that Rush is forevermore a radical and subversive (and as one who lives in the Illinois First Congressional District, I am aware of the extent to which that attitude exists among a few of its residents), then I’d argue Harper played down to the stereotype of a Mississippi politician.

He certainly didn’t “do right” by the people who elected him to Capitol Hill.

He acted like a buffoon, and now we’re going to have to wonder what is wrong with the people of the Mississippi Third Congressional District that they would give this guy two terms in Congress – and likely a third after the Nov. 6 elections.

He turned what should have been a trivial, even laughable moment on Rush’s part into a controversy.

HE GOT ALL worked up over a hood, which I’ll be honest I don’t like to wear just because I don’t like the feel of it over my head (I don’t care much for hats, either, to tell the truth).

And for those who want to claim that the gesture Rush was trying to make by wearing a “hoodie” is somehow offensive to those with a law-and-order mentality, at least I’d say he was wearing his hood in public.

Unlike certain other people who have served in the House of Representatives during its history who chose to wear their “hoods” (you know what I mean) after hours in the presence of a lit cross when they thought nobody was watching.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sanchez/Tebow not really new, not even for New York City sports fans

I’m not much of a football fan, so it kind of amazes me that people are getting so worked up and seeing “Controversy!!!” in the making with the trade of quarterback Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.

After all, the Jets already had a quarterback in Mark Sanchez, and not exactly one who is going to be willing to share the limelight – or sit on the bench.

YET WITH THE persona that Tebow has developed in recent seasons, there’s no way he is meant to be the benchwarmer for the upcoming football season. At the very least, I could see the fans who like Tebow’s excessively public displays of religious fervor getting all offended.

Bring down the wrath of God on the team that hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the days of Joe Namath? Why risk it!

Yet tamper with the personality that brings attention to the Jets with his ability to date so many women whose own public personas rely on their ability to look fine in skimpy bathing suits.

Are we destined to see a brawl out of New York at some time this autumn? Will their jealousy overcome them? Or is it inevitable that one of them – most likely Sanchez – will fade away from the celebrity scene and ultimately wind up desperately hanging on to professional athletics for a few seasons?

BECAUSE I HAVE to admit that when I hear about this potential for conflict, I can’t help but think back to baseball a trio of decades ago. Specifically, to the off-season between 1977 and 1978.

Because that was the time when the New York Yankees, coming off their first World Series victory in 15 years, had a team that had the “best” pitcher in the American League in the form of Sparky Lyle – who actually won the Cy Young Award for ’77.

So how did the Yankees deal with this situation? They gave a “big money” contract to pitcher Rich Gossage, who threw hard fastballs compared to Lyle’s slider.

There was some talk early on that the two pitchers would be used in a platoon – Lyle pitching to left-handed hitters in relief while Gossage would throw to right-handed batters.

IS SOMEBODY CONCOCTING a similar scheme in New York these days to try to pretend that it is possible for both Sanchez and Tebow to be the “regular” quarterback for the Jets?

If they are, my guess is that it will last about as long as the Yankees’ cheap rhetoric – just a month or so.

Because eventually, the Gossage fastball was viewed as so overpowering at game’s end that it became “the arm” that the Yankees relied upon in order to preserve victories.

In the famed words of Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles, Lyle went from, “Cy Young to Sayonara.” He was traded away at the end of the season, and he bounced around baseball for another four seasons – eventually winding up his career as a major league pitcher in a season-ending stint with the Chicago White Sox in 1982.

HE WAS A far cry from the “best pitcher of the American League” that he was with the Yankees that year, and the relief pitcher who some fans thought might have a shot at election to baseball’s Hall of Fame. While Gossage – whose career started out with the White Sox and even included a one-season stint with the Chicago Cubs – went on to Hall of Fame pitcher status.

Are we going to see something similar happen in New York this year? Perhaps Sanchez can take the same route that Lyle went – keeping a day-by-day diary of his season and turning it into “The Bronx Zoo,” which is still an entertaining sports book a third-of-a-century after it was written.

Although I doubt the Jets are as equally entertaining a sports team as that Yankees team whose season was ultimately a success because of another one-time White Sox farm hand whom Boston Red Sox fans still hold a grudge against.

Go Bucky Dent!!!

WHILE THE REST of us will be looking toward New York to see how entertaining the athletic jealousy will be.

And perhaps we should be pondering the day when a washed-up Sanchez (or will it be a washed-up Tebow?) will be touted as the great hope (and savior) of our very own Chicago Bears.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Healthcare reform – the fight won’t die

Nothing that was said or heard or done Monday – or will occur in the next couple of days – is meant to sway any of us when it comes to the issue of the legitimacy of health care reform.

This is all about trying to sway the nine members of the Supreme Court of the United States, which is hearing the issue and may well render a decision some time around Election Day on the fate of the reform plan that was the significant achievement of Barack Obama’s first term as president.

WHICH MEANS THE big question we all ought to be contemplating as we hear of the reports from Washington (where attorneys are arguing the issue) is just how much will political partisanship taint the way the court approaches this issue?

I’d like to think the answer to that question is, “It won’t!” But I’m not that naïve.

Although I’m also sure there will be some semblance of “the law” based in the ruling on the case that is brought about by Obama’s partisan critics who are determined to see that health care reform never takes effect.

If it reads like I’m critical of his critics, you’d be correct. This whole legal action reeks of partisanship from people who still haven’t gotten over (and likely never will) the fact that Obama had the gall to win a presidential election in 2008.

THE HEALTHCARE REFORM measure that Obama signed into law just over two years ago (the ideologues made a point last week of pointing out the actual date as one of “shame” that they would spare us from ever having to note in the future) is that measure that would create health insurance plans, of sorts, for people who currently do not have medical coverage.

They would be subsidized by the federal government so that people would be able to afford them, regardless of how little their income is. Which would take away the major cause why many people do not have health insurance – they can’t afford it.
OBAMA: It's about his legacy

In my mind, that knocks down the major line of attack being used by the ideologues – that people are being hit by the threat of financial penalties come Income Tax time if they continue to refuse to get medical coverage.

It’s not really a “tax” on low-income people if the federal government is making it feasible for people to get the medical coverage that would help them avoid the “penalty.”

OF COURSE, THE ideologues don’t really care about the penalty, or even the lower-income people being burdened in that way.

They don’t want to have to assume any responsibility for medical coverage – which would be a big burden for the nation. Although I’d argue the current situation where we have people who can’t get adequate medical treatment because they don’t have insurance (and can’t afford it out-of-pocket because doctor bills have become so costly that no one can really afford the true cost of treatment) is a bigger burden on our nation.

It is another example of a case where the “weak link” of our society threatens to drag us all down.

A lot of the arguments I’m making here are the same ones I made three years ago when this was the hot-button issue before Congress, which ended with Obama making significant compromises and scaling back the plans just so he could say he got something enacted into law that could be called “healthcare” reform.

YET THAT IS not good enough for the ideologues – who likely realize that even this watered-down measure will provide some relief for people who currently fear getting sick. And as Obama spokesman David Plouffe says, the fact that the ideologues use the label “Obamacare” to demonize the plan will be reversed on them by resulting in Obama getting all the credit for the benefits that will kick in as of next year.

That is a partisan line, in and of itself. But it may have a bit of truth. Which is why the ideologues want the Supreme Court to strike this down before it can ever take effect.

Which is why I found it interesting that some of the high court’s conservative-leaning justices (the ones who can lean toward the ideologues) are saying it’s too early to bring this particular argument of an unfair “tax” up. Perhaps people have to actually start being forced to pay it, before the court can find it unfair and strike it down.

Could this wind up as a case where the nation’s high court expresses some sort of sympathy for the critics, but finds a technicality to reject giving them what they want (ie, denying other people access to insurance)?

IT’S NOT A high-minded moralistic win for the Obama administration. Although I’m sure his people would take it and declare “Victory!” before moving on to the next issue (immigration reform, perhaps) that will offend “the right.”

Because that political offense ultimately is what this issue has become all about.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Chicago will have its say over Trayvon

The slaying in Florida of a teenage boy considered suspicious by a neighborhood watch-type has Chicagoans ticked off.
JACKSON: Martin his new cause?

A few hundred of us gathered in the shadow of the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza to express our outrage, while two of our most outspoken pastors (Revs. Jesse Jackson and Michael Pfleger) felt the need to add their thoughts to the mix.

YET THE MOMENT that most caught my attention was the one from Jackson’s namesake son, as the member of Congress from Chicago’s far South Side and surrounding suburbs made his intentions known about possible government intervention.

The issue at stake with regards to the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin are the “Stand Your Ground” laws that exist in certain states – including Florida. They were the legal basis for local prosecutors to decide that the local security guy had justification to feel threatened by Martin.

Threatened enough that he could shoot him to death; without being considered worthy of a charge of murder. The idea that federal prosecutors may seek a "civil rights violation" against the man seems so minor, by comparison.

Those laws date back to the days of the “Wild West,” and that old cowboy-like spirit that would think a man ought to have the right to gun down someone who’s getting in his face.

IT’S AN OUTDATED sentiment, and not something that we should be proud ever existed in our society. It reiterates my belief that the ideologues who are critical these days of Martin’s conduct are really just trying to hold us in the past.

So what’s so special about Jackson, Junior?
MARTIN: This week's 'cause'

He says he plans to push in Congress for a federal law that would strike down all of those “Stand Your Ground” laws. Which you just know will manage to tick off the ideologues (the ones who scream "Obamacare!" until after their throats go hoarse) of our nation.

But Jackson has a point. These statutes that exist from state to state (and don’t exist in many states with common sense) create a potential for disaster – which we see in this very incident. Unless you consider the shooting of a young man armed with a package of Skittles-brand candy to be acceptable – in which case, you have a serious problem.

PERHAPS THIS IS one of those incidents where we need the federal government to intervene to create a unified vision of what self-defense really means. And anybody who claims that “Stand Your Ground” laws are about common sense ought to realize that they really go far beyond protecting oneself.

Now I’m not under any delusion that the Congress of the United States of America is going to unite behind any measure put forth by Jackson on this issue.

In fact, I am pretty sure that the conservative ideologues to whom the Republican caucuses in Congress feels indebted to these days will go out of their way to ensure that any bill sponsored by Jackson (or anyone else) on this issue will get stalled in the process.

But I think their actions would say more about their own mindsets than anything bad about the possible bill itself. For only the biggest ideologue would seriously believe that there is anything acceptable about the Florida situation – which has managed to tick people off from coast-to-coast and even inspired the Miami Heat professional basketball team last week to wear “hoodie” sweatshirts in tribute to Martin.

THEN AGAIN, THE ideologues like to live in a world of their own mental making – one in which they’re the only ones who matter and how everyone not like them needs to learn to be subservient.

Perhaps that was Martin’s real “crime,” not being sufficiently subservient? It doesn’t sound to me like something worthy of a “death” sentence – which is what Martin got in this case.

It is the reason that Jackson, the congressman (although his father and brother, Jonathan, were also vocal about the matter this weekend), was going around using such rhetoric as “wannabe cop” to describe the neighborhood watch-type who shot Martin and ‘wannabe police brutality” to describe his behavior.

It also is the reason we had people feeling the need to gather at Daley Plaza on Saturday to protest a Florida shooting death.

BECAUSE I COULDN’T help but notice the reports coming from downtown Chicago that among the protesters were relatives of a suburban Calumet City teenager diagnosed with a form of autism who was shot to death last month by local police.

There are those who believe that shooting by two officers will ultimately be ruled “justified” by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. But that fact does not mute the anger felt by others who merely see a dead boy and aren’t as concerned about the specifics.

The fact that some states would seem to have laws meant to erase the specifics of any given incident to try to justify such acts only adds to the confusion.

Which means that perhaps we ought to be hoping that a Jackson-inspired measure ought to become a part of federal law. Perhaps what our nation most needs is a bit of Chicago-inspired sense when it comes to what is justice.


Ideologues trying to pit Latinos against black people with Trayvon slaying?

There are those who are trying to downplay the possibility of racial tensions in the Florida shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin by pointing out the fact that the man accused of his shooting (with no criminal charges as of now pending against him) was Latino.

It is true enough (on his mother’s side of the family). But it really seems the only people who bring that up are the ones who want to turn this situation into a brawl between black and Latino – rather than one involving the death of an unarmed teenager.

WHICH PROBABLY SAYS more about the mentality of the kind of people who are critical of Martin than it does about the boy himself.

Those wishing to know more about this angle (and Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s rhetoric on the issue) should read the commentary published at this weblog’s sister site, The South Chicagoan.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Political people getting worked up for wrong reasons over Derrick Smith

It is an embarrassment for our state that an incumbent legislator from the West Side gets elected to office just one week after we learned he was indicted on federal charges claiming he solicited bribes in exchange for his services as a representative.

But I have to be honest. The real embarrassment isn’t so much related to state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, as it is to the way political people on all sides of the partisan equation are behaving.

EVERYBODY IS TRYING to behave like they’re “holier than thou” and are somehow superior to everybody else. That’s just a batch of nonsense.

I’m talking about the Republican legislators who immediately reacted to Tuesday’s Democratic primary victory by Smith over Tom Swiss (a conservative ideologue who was hoping that a lack of specific information about himself would enable him to “steal” a seat from the Democratic caucus) by calling for hearings to discipline, if not outright remove, Smith from office.

Then again, I expect a partisan reaction. It is easy for me to dismiss such talk by GOPers as the rantings of a batch of political gasbags.

The fact that Democratic Party-affiliated politicos in Springfield are now taking on such legislative hearings (and according to the Capitol Far newsletter actually contemplated whether they could hold them in executive session – a.k.a., in secret) is complete trash.

THE IDEA THAT they’re trying to create the illusion that they’re going to “discipline” one of their own is stupid. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. If anything, it borders on hypocritical.

They would be the last people I would expect to impose serious discipline, since the whole strategy behind the way they dealt with news of Smith’s indictment in U.S. District Court in Chicago was to urge people to vote for Smith in the primary.

Because they knew that if Smith won, his eventual replacement would fall into their hands. A Swiss victory (he is a former executive director of the completely ineffectual Cook County Republican Party) would have meant engaging in a hard-core campaign to depose him come 2014 – which they likely would have done.

The Illlinois Statehouse will feel this gloomy and doomy while legislators try to figure out what to do with previously-unknown representative Derrick Smith.

Nobody really cares about punishment. It’s about using the Smith situation to try to bolster their own political situations. This is partisanship at its worst.

ALL OF WHICH means that the hearings scheduled to start Tuesday at the Statehouse in Springpatch (which are being billed as a mini-version of the impeachment hearings held in 1997 for then-Illinois Supreme Court Justice James Heiple and in 2010 for now-incarcerated former Gov. Rod Blagojevich) are a batch of bunk.

Cheap rhetoric at its worst. The ultimate in grandstanding, with politicos of both parties seeing who can outdo the other side in terms of diminishing what little public reputation Derrick Smith has.

Personally, if I were in Smith’s position, I wouldn’t do a thing to move toward resignation (which is what Democratic leadership would like Smith to do, now that it is a “done deal” that they can appoint his replacement).

He does still have that “innocent until proven guilty” thing going for him. Until a jury comes back with a “guilty” verdict and a judge agrees (or until he enters a “guilty” plea), he doesn’t have to go anywhere.

AND FOR THOSE people who are going to argue that having an indicted person hanging around the state Legislature is embarrassing and adds to the symbolic stench of the place, I say, “nonsense.”

All the high-minded “trash talk” we’re going to get from legislators pretending to be morally superior than Smith will be more of an embarrassment than anything Smith is alleged to have done.

Because the reality is that Smith, who was nothing but an appointed replacement himself to finish off the Illinois House term remaining when Annazette Collins gave it up to become a state Senator, is alleged to have written a letter on behalf of a day care center owner who wanted a state grant.

There’s nothing wrong with that, EXCEPT that prosecutors claim the only reason he wrote the letter was the $7,000 in cash (all hundreds, from someone who turned out to be an FBI informant) that he received in exchange.

WHICH MAY BE the ultimate evidence that Smith is not so much a corrupt, venal individual as he is a dim bulb – so to speak.

Legislators often offer up their influence to projects or groups in their home districts in order to gain their eternal gratitude – which if played properly (and legally) can be worth far more than $7,000 in cold, hard cash.

If Smith were truly as conniving as I’m sure some people are going to claim next week that he is, he would have been able to gain much more for himself in favor after favor that would have bolstered his influence – and NOT have to worry about the prospects of an indictment and conviction.

Which makes me think that this is a two-bit, petty crime that political people will try to exaggerate to make themselves feel all-powerful. That offends me much more.

FOR I KNOW that Smith, if he is guilty, will eventually be weeded out by the criminal justice system. The political blowhards who want to get themselves involved for their own selfish reasons will linger around the Statehouse Scene for far longer.

Much longer, as a matter of fact, after the name “Derrick Smith” fades away from our memories and becomes a “who dat?”


Friday, March 23, 2012

We’re loaded up for political trivia

Mitt Romney’s “Etch-A-Sketch” controversy, or Rod Blagojevich’s inevitably-graying pompadour? I’m not sure which one is more trivial.

I want to say it is the issue involving the former Illinois governor’s hair, now that he is in prison and will not be able to get the same personal attention to his haircut from the barbers employed by the Bureau of Prisons.

AFTER ALL, IT’S only hair. And learning that Blagojevich uses dye to cover up the gray is even less interesting than the eternal debates about how fake are actress Pamela Anderson’s bosoms.

Except for the fact that Blagojevich’s hair color ultimately is meaningless. The rhetoric concerning presidential hopeful Romney’s ideological bearings could have a serious meaning – if not expressed in such a trivial manner.

Then again, I have been observing the political scene for a long-enough period of time to know that it is often the trivia that manages to catch hold in the minds of the people. Which is why it has to be analyzed, studied, and broken down – before we can finally put it to rest.

Yet it is still capable of creating a headache – or a pair of them, as was the case for me on Thursday when I learned of these two “mini-controversies.”

I’M SURE IF Blagojevich still had any influence, he’d issue some sort of order that put out a contract on the life of his barber.

For it seems that in this week after Milorod reported to a federal correctional center in suburban Denver, his barber talked. He squealed. He ratted him out.

Rod Blagojevich’s hair is NOT that luscious, dark shade by nature. He uses hair dye to achieve that color, and countless hours with a brush to keep it that rich texture. (Remember the state police security team that had a member required to keep a brush on his presence, just in case the governor required it at an odd moment?)

The barber said that the most recent dye job the governor received should wear off within two to three months. Prison barbers will try to maintain his style, as best they can. But they won’t dye the hair for him (officials say inmates could use dye to try to disguise themselves in escape attempts).

THAT WILL REVEAL the natural gray in his hair, which I’m sure will intensify in coming years both due to age and stress. Then again, considering that he will be 67 years old when he is scheduled for release, a certain amount of graying would be expected.

A dark-haired, old-man Blagojevich would be even more fake than Anderson’s physique!

And about as fake an issue as the one now confronting Romney, who earlier in the campaign cycle had one of his aides try to explain that the socially-conservative stances he was taking now to appeal to ideologues would not hurt him among “real” people in the general election.

After all, he would alter some of his stances come campaigning in September and October – which is when real people would like to start thinking about an election scheduled for Nov. 6.

THAT AIDE SAID it was like a kid using one of those “Etch-A-Sketch” toys. Give it a shake, and your drawing is gone. You have a blank slate to start all over with, which is what Romney supposedly will do come the general election cycle.

It seems this is sticking. Romney immediately came out with his own statement claiming that he really is sincere in wanting to appeal to the conservative ideologues. He wants their votes.

Yet too many people like the “Etch-A-Sketch” image. He got hit with more questions about it on Wednesday while campaigning at an American Legion hall in Maryland, and stories are now circulating about how President Barack Obama will be able to use this image against him come the head-to-head September and October campaigning.

So much for Romney being able to bask in the sunshine that should have been provided by a solid electoral victory in the Illinois primaries. So much for the notion that the votes of Illinoisans were all that significant.

We were quickly tossed overboard, so to speak, by the image of a child-hood toy. And the decline of a hair-do that, personally, I always thought looked a tad ridiculous.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

I sympathize w/ the 21st Century student

It has been 30 years since the days when I was trying to get myself ready to go away to college – which included trying to figure out how to pay for it.

In my case, I was fortunate. I attended a university that had a commitment to trying to get the maximum amount of financial aid for its students – although before it sounds like I’m anointing them for sainthood, I’m fully aware that their top concern was to make sure the tuition bill got paid one way or another.

BUT THE BOTTOM line is that I ultimately was able to attend the college of my choice, and I remain satisfied with my four years of higher education – even if I didn’t truly appreciate the quality I received until after I graduated and saw some of the awful things my new-found work counterparts had to put up with.

I also know that if it weren’t for the financial aid (which left me paying off debt for six years after I graduated), I wouldn’t have had that experience.

I probably would have gained something resembling a degree from somewhere. But I’d probably be in the category of  people who had to put up with nonsense – instead of gaining some advantages in life.

I’d be a different person from the one I am now.

WHICH IS WHY I read with much interest the Chicago Tribune report about financial aid for college students in this state.

It seems that the Monetary Award Program that is used to provide the bulk of a student’s financial aid package is broke. The state’s funding for the program ran clean as of nine days ago. Anybody who didn’t get their application for the program in by March 13 is out of luck.

They’re going to get nothing.

There are other programs that can provide some financial assistance. But they’re the ones that usually are used to supplement the MAP grant funds.

WHICH MEANS I can see a lot of prospective college students suddenly realizing they’re not going to be able to attend a place that they’re eminently qualified for. State officials estimate that some 140,000 students will have to be rejected even though they qualify for aid.

Now for those of you who are going to rant that these students should just get a job and work their way through school, that’s probably what they’re going to have to do. They know that. They don’t need to hear your ideological trash talk.

But the fact also remains that the price of a university education has reached levels that few human beings are in a position to pay without some form of financial assistance.

So having a solid program for offering financial assistance is crucial for our society as a whole.

BECAUSE NOT ENCOURAGING people to reach their full potential ultimately will create bigger problems than we now face. Anyone who can’t accept that concept as fact IS the problem in our society.

Unless our state officials are able to resolve this problem (along with a lot of others they also face these days), we are going to wind up suffering a severe situation.

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that I think the Republican presidential dreamers are talking nonsense when they spew rhetoric about the value of higher education being overrated.

They come across as longing for a time when the point of colleges and universities was to weed out certain types of people from thinking they could be a significant part of society – instead of now trying to bolster anybody with potential to reach their full potential.

SO WHAT HAPPENS now? I can kind of comprehend the logic that says the people who filed their aid applications promptly will still get aid, while those who waited until the last minute will lose out. I can appreciate a deadline and the value of being early.

But this is going to be a harsh life’s lesson for some people, and one that can have a larger impact on all of us.

Which also makes me want to crack down on my oldest nephew, who happens to be a high school junior just now trying to figure out where he wants to go to college.

I hope he doesn’t wait too long. Because it would be a waste if he became the kid spending his spare time dribbling a basketball on a court somewhere just to kill time, trying to figure out where he went wrong.