Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is decade-old West Wing 'reality' TV?

I can’t help but remember a decade-old episode of “The West Wing,” that television drama starring Martin Sheen as an idealistic take on who at least some of us wish were our nation’s president.

SHEEN (as Bartlet): 'Reality' TV?
In this particular episode, there was a subplot about how the president’s staff was dealing with a member of Congress who (they thought) had a reputation for being flaky.

WHAT WACKO IDEA did he come up with this time? It was an amendment to the Constitution that would completely take government out of the equation when it came to the recognition of marriage.

The Bartlet administration didn’t want to be bothered with the issue. They wanted it to go away. And they didn’t want this member of Congress to get all hissy-fittish, because that might get the gay rights activists all worked up against them.

Yet letting this member of Congress proceed with his rhetoric surely would stir up the religious right.

Yes, all of this came back to my mind when I learned Wednesday of the lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. The two groups represent 25 gay couples across Illinois who are upset that all they can do is get their match recognized with a civil union – and not something that bears the name “marriage.”

THEY CLAIM THAT the due process and equality clauses of the Illinois state Constitution can be interpreted to mean that these couples have every right to be “married” as any heterosexual couple does.

Which, I’m sure, on a certain level is giving the Barack Obama White House staff the same headaches that the fictional Bartlet administration acted out all those years ago – and for the very same reason.

OBAMA: Seeking advice from TV?
Fiction predicting reality? It’s kind of eerie, to tell you the truth.

Because the arguments made by that wacky congressman character a decade ago on television are literally the ones being heard Wednesday in Illinois.

GOVERNMENT SHOULDN’T BE getting involved in deciding whose “union” is legitimate and whose isn’t.

Let religions have the claim to the phrase marriage, and turn everybody’s matchup into a civil union. The people who want to go the additional step of being “married” in their church can do so.

Those who don’t have strong religious convictions could get that same City Hall wedding service, or can seek out those people who manage to get themselves certified to perform marriages by filling out a couple of forms.

And before it seems like I’m making fun of those people, I must confess to having a sister-in-law who performs wedding services as a sideline. If that kind of service makes one happy, who am I to mock it?

THE REAL BOTTOM line is that it takes away any legal distinction between a “marriage” and a “civil union,” which is a distinction that ought to be erased.

For the only people who really want to have any distinction exist are the ones who are looking for a reason to be able to look down upon other people for whatever reason. That is something we should go out of our way to discourage.

Because I think for many couples, the religious rites (a few seconds of holiness) are far less significant than the legal rights and benefits that couples gain from being “legally bound” to each other.

The real negative of a couple just “living together” isn’t so much that they’re in sin, but that they’re putting up with each others annoying moments without getting the benefits come Income Tax Day.

IN FACT, IF you think of it objectively, the only people who ought to be “opposed” to this idea are the ones who will be upset that they can’t denigrate other couples for not having the same service they had.

Which isn’t much of an excuse, to me, to keep the status quo.

It also makes me wonder if I should start scouring those DVDs of “The West Wing” episodes that I have tucked in a drawer. Maybe we’ll get a sense of where we’re headed in the next few years. Particularly since the past decade’s television joke may have a strain of legitimate policy to it.

Let’s only hope we never get a real-life take on that one episode where Big Bird and Elmo turned up at the White House!

  -30-

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And here I just got a new smart phone that supposedly has a quality camera

On the one hand, I happen to believe that anybody who feels the need to whip out their portable phone to use the built-in camera to take pictures of anything that happens to capture their fancy is engaging in pretty insipid behavior.
My new 'toy,' and soon I'll have a restriction

Then again, I do believe people have a right to act in ways that are stupid. It’s their choice.

WHICH IS WHY I can’t help but think that a bill now pending before Gov. Pat Quinn is such a gross overreaction. I don’t see the need to codify the fact that anybody who feels the need to pull out their portable camera and take pictures of an accident scene is being insipid.

The bill in question got its final vote of approval in the General Assembly on Monday. The Illinois House backed a measure making it illegal for any automobile driver to make a call with their portable phone within 500 feet of an auto accident scene where emergency vehicles have flashing lights.

It also would be illegal for people to send pictures and video messages while driving their cars – regardless of whether there’s an auto accident occurring nearby.

In theory, there is an exemption that allows someone in a car to pull out their cell phone and make a call to report the emergency situation. But I can’t help but think that if there are ambulances and police squad cars around the area with their lights flashing, it means they’re already aware of the accident.

SO WHERE’S THE real exemption?

Personally, I would never feel compelled to whip out my phone to snap a picture of an auto accident I happened to drive past – even though the Nokia Lumia smart phone I got just last week (my old Blackberry completely died) supposedly has as one of its selling points a higher-quality camera than most hand-held phones have.

Whenever I see people walking down the street feeling the need to suddenly snap a picture of something that they randomly encountered in life, all too often I can’t help but think it’s such a waste of time.

I usually don’t think to say anything, figuring it’s their business what they do – or what they choose to clutter up their phones’ memory with. So I can sort of see the idea of a law addressing these situations.

IT’S JUST THAT this bill seems like such overkill – even if its backers claim their concern is reducing the chance of someone causing yet a second accident because they were paying too much attention to the first one they were trying to shoot pictures of.

Besides, a part of me can’t help but wonder if this is someone trying to come up with yet another law making it a sordid act to take pictures of police in action.

We already have those laws that make video without police permission a potential felony, and it is a good thing that the courts have shown themselves to be hostile toward the idea of enforcing the letter of that law!

Does somebody really fear that somebody is going to capture a moment on digital that might make law enforcement conduct at an accident scene look less than honorable? An embarrassing moment caught for posterity (or at least until the camera owner gets bored with the shot and deletes it)!

WE HAVE SERIOUS problems confronting our state Legislature. I’d like to see some effort put by our politicians into addressing them.

So while I understand that our legislators are capable of addressing many issues at once, I can’t help but wonder how much brain matter that could have gone into balancing a budget or properly funding Medicaid or pensions got put into addressing the “scourge” of those handheld phone cameras snapping shots of police milling around an accident scene?

  -30-

How uncouth!

Reading the reports this past weekend about University of Chicago fraternities engaging in stunts that used Latinos as the punch line reminded me of the “Polish jokes” of old.

Those were never really funny, and neither is the thought of the potential future leaders of our society being “hazed” by having to mow the frat house lawn while wearing a gaudy sombrero.

ANYBODY WHO ARGUES that there is humor here and that some people are being overly touchy is exposing more about their vacuousness than they are our lack of a sense of humor.

Somehow, I doubt that the university will be boasting about this moment, the way they like to go on and on about all those Nobel Prize winners on the faculty -- or the fact that a current president was once an instructor there.

More about this incident can be found at this weblog’s sister site, The South Chicagoan.

  -30-

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How cash-desperate is government?

Government entities can always use more money to fund their operations – enabling them to provide more services that would actually benefit the public.

If I were a corporation serious interested in buying naming rights from  Cook County, all I'd want is the little plot of land upon which the iconic Picasso statue rests. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

And when certain government officials talk about wanting to reduce government spending, in many cases what they really want to do is cut programs to which they have ideological hang-ups. Budget balancing is not their primary concern.

BUT WE’RE IN a time period where economic struggles are impacting government as well. The existing tax rates just aren’t producing as much money as desired (what’s that old cliché, “you can’t draw blood from a turnip”) and some people need to rely on government services all the more in order to survive.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that government entities are considering some pretty strange-sounding ideas these days – justifying them with rhetoric about how desperately they need more money.

I can’t help but think that Cook County government talking about selling off naming rights and sponsorships is among them.

We may now be with a generation that thinks it is totally normal for sports arenas to have names like the United Center, U.S. Cellular Field or Toyota Park (just to name a few). But now, it seems, we’re going to at least contemplate the idea that the forest preserves or government buildings (at least parts of them) will have corporate names.

NO LONGER WILL such facilities be named for political hacks like Richard J. Daley or Dan Ryan (the woods, along with the expressway). That is, not unless their families are willing to let the government have what was left of their campaign war chests at the moments of their deaths.

It was just earlier this year that county officials put the name of George Leighton (one of the first African-American judges in Cook County) on the Criminal Courts building in the Little Village neighborhood.

But now, it seems that corporate entities could have their names put on the lobby, or other portions of the building.

Or if you have some real money to spend, you could get your name put on an entire forest preserve.

PERSONALLY, IF I had large amounts of money I could waste, I would want to buy a piece of Daley Plaza. I’m not greedy. I don’t want the whole plaza.

I just want the little square portion upon which sits the famed Picasso statue. Just think – the Picasso at Chicago Argus court, in Daley Plaza! It’s definitely a mouthful, and totally ridiculous-sounding.

Yet that’s the direction our county government is considering – all in the name of feeling desperate for cash to keep the county up-and-running.

Although it should be pointed out that it’s not just Cook County taking actions in the name of finance. It was just last week that the Illinois House of Representatives passed a measure meant to bolster the amount of money in state coffers.

NO, I’M NOT referring to the sequel of casino expansion (although that was done solely for the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars coming to the state). I’m talking about the proposed tax increase on packages of cigarettes.

If this measure actually gets past the Illinois Senate this week and Gov. Pat Quinn sometime this summer, the price of a pack would go up by $1.

I realize this increase is being justified to raise money desperately needed to maintain healthcare for low-income people. Anything that improves healthcare quality and access is a good thing.

It’s just that I wonder how far can political people go in terms of boosting tobacco-product taxes before they become too expensive to purchase. Not that it would bother me – I always thought of smoking as a tacky, smelly habit.

BUT AT WHAT point does this kind of increase become self-defeating by reducing the numbers of people who actually purchase cigarettes?

Or is nicotine truly so addictive that people will feel compelled to pay whatever price gets put on two-pack-a-day habit? I can’t help but think that we’d be encouraging people to cheat themselves out of something else in order to afford their tobacco fix – which just sounds like it creates so many problems.

Somehow, I suspect that the only people who will benefit from this change (if it becomes law) are the manufacturers of those generic brands of cigarettes – who will be able to offer a lower-base price.

That, and maybe those tacky little storefronts on the Indiana side of State Line Road – the ones that have their huge signs advertising “cheap smokes” along with firecrackers and all the generic flavors of pop you could want to guzzle down your throat while attending a picnic held at Little Caesar’s Pizza forest preserve!

  -30-

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chicago baseball teams seen in ‘mirror’ worse (and better) than they appear

Since I personally could care less about the Indianapolis 500 auto race, perhaps it is odd that I have an automobile reference to my view about baseball.

But it is with my own ‘rear view mirror’ that I’m looking upon the fact that we’re one-third of the way through the 2012 season, and we’re at the point (Memorial Day holiday weekend) where it finally becomes relevant to look at the standings and figure out who is good, who is bad, and who is just downright butt-ugly awful.

TRYING TO LOOK at the standings any sooner is just pointless. There just haven’t been enough games played until now to get any real sense of what is happening. Perhaps it is because I remember the season a few years ago when the Cleveland Indians began with an 11-1 won-loss record and had everybody wetting their pants with glee.

A couple of weeks later, that record was 13-13 before the ballclub fell into its routine of a completely forgettable season.

We haven’t had any such wackiness in Chicago. White Sox pitcher Phil Humber’s perfect game really could turn out to be the highlight for Chicago baseball in 2012 – although I already sense all those Cubs fans who are going to tell me about Kerry Wood’s farewell game (pitching to Dayan Viciedo and striking him our).

Whoop de doo!?! Somehow, I don’t envision Viciedo is living with the “shame” of such a moment. He’s probably already forgotten about it. Perhaps something else will happen at the Wrigley Field scene later this year to make everybody else forget it too.

PERSONALLY, I DON’T know what to think about 2012 at this point. Because I can’t help but think of the rear view mirror and that saying decaled over the glass.

Nothing we see right now is what it appears to be.

I see that on Memorial Day White Sox fans can wake up and say they root for a ballclub with a winning record and one that is only a half-game out of first place (the Sox have one more loss than the Cleveland Indians, and both have won 26 games thus far).

They’re in a pennant race! And it has to be a bonus that during the past week they completed a sweep of the first place Indians, to go along with taking two of three games from the Minnesota Twins, just after taking those three ballgames from the Cubs.

AN 8-1 RECORD during the past 10 days. Impressive. Then again, even the worst major league ballclubs are capable of going on tears for a short stretch. Who knows?

Maybe THIS is the 2012 season highlight – White Sox fans were deluded into thinking that the team is a real contender for a division title (which I still say doesn’t mean much, a League championship and World Series appearance are what count).

Perhaps it is because I saw how hard the White Sox pitching got hit during the past weekend, and only won those games because the Indians pitchers got smacked about even harder. This just strikes me as a ballclub that will fade around the time the Chicago Bears go to training camp.

Which means we should probably enjoy things now.

AS FOR THE Chicago Cubs, I got my chuckles from a Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist this week who speculated as to whether baseball wunderkind Theo Epstein appreciated the irony of leaving a winning organization with the Boston Red Sox (last place in their own division as of Monday) to come to what could be the worst team in baseball.

Yes. The Cubs would be one-half game behind the Twins in the standings, if baseball standings were ranked first through thirtieth – without regard for divisions or leagues.

But they’re not.

And I honestly don’t believe the Cubs are as bad as that 15-32 won-loss record they had on Memorial Day.

IF THIS PAST week may be the White Sox’ season highlight, it definitely has to be the low point for the Cubs – who after their 10-4 loss on Sunday to the Pittsburgh Pirates have lost 12 ballgames in a row!

The carnage has to end! Heck, even I’m hoping that the Cubs can manage to eke out a victory on Monday against the San Diego Padres, just so we can quit thinking of “historically awful” and go back to thinking of the team as disappointingly mediocre.

Which is what I really see when I look at the Cubs ballclub. Nobody could be that incredibly awful – although a part of me has to admit to thinking that anyone who would pay the $100-plus prices that are being charged for the Wrigley Field bleachers these days (for the premium games, that is) is a bit of a sucker. Perhaps they need a bit of “reality” to bring them back to Earth.

And in the end, I still think that level at season’s end will be a White Sox team that is somewhere around 81 wins (the .500 winning percentage point) and a Cubs team that flies the white flag with the blue “W” 75 times during 2012.

  -30-

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): What makes place historic? Helps if old

It seems Chicago has a new site on the National Register of Historic Places – although my guess is that it won’t be one that comes to most peoples’ minds.

The National Park Service has created the Cermak Road Bridge Historic District fto help influence future development of the blocks around the bridge that crosses over the South branch of the Chicago River.

I DON’T KNOW of anybody who lives in that district, or of any businesses in that area that I patronize on a regular basis. In fact, when I think of the area, all I envision are some warehouses.

Yet that is what federal and state officials (the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency helps administer the historic sites program) are hoping to pay tribute to. Because it seems that all of the buildings within the district date back to the first few years of the 20th Century, and the bridge also was constructed back in the same time period.

In short, it is a place that has changed very little despite the passage of time. It still looks much the same. So it gets the historic designation – even though any events that actually occurred in that area during the past century likely wouldn’t trigger any memories in the minds of the average person.

The desire to preserve the “feel” of Chicago from those old days is what will be behind the historic designation. I’m just wondering how long will it be before some developer tries to come up with ideas for “revitalizing” the area that he complains are being interfered with by these “history zealots” the way that some people rant and rage about environmentalists somehow interfering with business?

YES, I HAVE to admit to getting a kick out of this newest historic site designation. Because I realize that our society has to keep some sense of where we’ve been, if we’re to fully appreciate what direction we ought to be heading in.

It would be easy for one new development to crop up to something of significance and ruin the effect. To me, the best example of that is the National Park that was created out of the blocks immediately surrounding the Abraham Lincoln home in Springfield, Ill.

Federal officials try to make the neighborhood look like it did when the Lincoln family actually lived there in the 1850s. But because officials didn’t get control of all the property in the area until the 1940s, some of the neighborhood houses have advanced beyond the desired time period. It can have a jarring effect.

What else is notable these days about life along the shores of the southwestern portions of Lake Michigan?

NOW WE KNOW WHAT HE WON’T DO:  I got my chuckles from listening to soon-to-be former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who told us he won’t run for political office and won’t become a criminal defense attorney.

He claims not to know what he’s going to do with his life once his “summer break” is complete. It seems he did make a recommendation to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., as to who he thinks should succeed him. But it seems that Durbin is honoring Fitzgerald’s desire not to publicly name that person at this point.

So we really don’t know at this point what’s going to become of the man, except for one thing.

He’s not planning to go back to his native New York City; he’s come to love living in Chicago. He says he’s staying. Which means on some level, he has some sense!

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN:  Author Thomas Wolfe could have written the headline for the reports this week about the disappointment felt by Barack Obama for the couple of days he was in town during the NATO Summit held at McCormick Place.

The president publicly said that he couldn’t be at Wrigley Field to watch his fan favorite White Sox beat up on the Cubs because he’s not allowed to have much fun built into his working schedule.

But on a more serious note, he wasn’t even allowed to stop by the family residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood for a quickie visit. Which was something he had hoped to do.

Security was so tight that the roads leading up to his home were shut down for the duration. Even the president got inconvenienced by the NATO-related security.

SOMETHING FOR SOX FANS TO LOOK FORWARD TO?:  Could the big story of Chicago baseball in 2012 turn out to be a battle for who gets to be Comeback Player of the Year?

The annual award to the player who showed the most improvement compared to the prior year is something that could wind up being won by a White Sox – although whether it would be the “Big Donkey” or the man some fans try to call “Joliet Jake” is arguable.

The “Donkey,” of course, is Adam Dunn, who has wisecracked about how he expects to win the award this year because of how awful his 2011 season was.  Going into Friday, Dunn had hit 14 home runs and had a .568 slugging percentage – although the one category he was leading the American League in was strikeouts (68 in 155 at-bats).

But then there is Jake Peavy – the one-time National League Cy Young Award winner who has been truly mediocre pitching in Chicago. Thus far this year, he has a 5-1 won/loss record with a 2.39 earned run average and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5-1 – which is overpowering.

  -30-

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gambling again, didn’t we just do this?

We’re back to playing political chicken, it would seem.

For the Illinois House of Representatives this week decided once again to take its best shot at passing a measure that would give us more, more, more casinos than we already have.

TRYING TO BOLSTER the state’s finances and get Illinois out of debt at the expense of the weak-willed who can’t resist the chance to throw away their money – based on the pipe dream that they will become instant millionaires and never have to work a day in their lives ever again!

Remember last year?

The General Assembly passed a bill that would have created more casinos, while also allowing for slot machines to be installed in places like horse racetracks and at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

But the Illinois Senate pulled a maneuver I had never heard of before.

TO PREVENT GOV. Pat Quinn from using his “veto” power to kill the bill off, the bill was stuck in a desk drawer controlled by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

After all, if the bill never went to Quinn for consideration, he couldn’t reject it.

The theory was that the legislators would work on Quinn’s psyche during the summer months to sway him, then would let him have the bill when he could be trusted to sign it into law.

But it seems this was one time that the high-minded and principled Pat Quinn (at least he thinks he is) actually stuck to his convictions. He was never swayed.

The newest 'casino' -- legislators gamble that Gov. Pat Quinn has no political willpower

FOR ALL I know, that piece of paper is still sitting in a drawer – unless it got used as a napkin by chance on one of the late nights that legislators were at work and they ordered in pizzas to tide themselves over.

The line about the napkin may be a joke. Then again, so was the whole effort last year.

Which is why I find it laughable that legislators are going through the same process again this year.

The Illinois House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill, and the Illinois Senate says it is inclined to support the measure. It seems that state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, still wants that casino in Park City – a dinky speck of a town that happens to lie within his legislative district.

THE FACT THAT got pointed out in the reports this week is that 69 state representatives voted in favor of the measure – whereas it would take 71 representatives to vote for it should Quinn veto the bill and the General Assembly tries to override him.

Can two arms be twisted by the proponents of more legalized gambling (who invariably will argue that I am being biased by refusing to refer to it as ‘gaming’) to ensure that the General Assembly can run roughshod over the Mighty Quinn?

Or will the legislators have to find another desk drawer in which to stick this particular version (which isn’t all that different from what got voted on last year) of the bill?

Meanwhile, the people of Danville, Rockford, Park City and some place like Lynwood, Ford Heights or Country Club Hills will get all delusional about the chance to have legal casino gambling within their boundaries.

PERHAPS MAYOR RAHM Emanuel will follow up his self-declared victory in hosting the NATO Summit (the city did not collapse into rubble from the rabble of protesters) by stepping up the political pressure on Quinn to get him to give in – particularly since the city would get the long-desired land-based casino (4,000 gambling posts!).

Although since that aspect was never the part that concerned Quinn (he hates the inclusion of slots at non-casinos, thinking they will cut into the market for the already-operating casinos), I don’t see that he would be swayed.

If anything, state Rep. Louis Lang, D-Skokie, a long-time legalized gambling proponent, may have put this issue best. He told reporter-types at the Statehouse in Springfield that all these gambling opportunities would create up to $300 million more per year in tax revenues to the state.

Will Quinn remain so ‘mighty’ at the thought of saying ‘no’ at a time when Illinois state government really can use every penny it can get its hands upon?

OR IS IT true that “Every man has his price,” and $300 million might be the price for Pat Quinn?

At this point, nothing would surprise me!

  -30-

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cops celebrated for doing their job

I couldn’t help but laugh a bit when I learned that the Chicago White Sox has a perk for Chicago Police Department officers – two free tickets for each cop to a Sox game later this season!

It’s because I have an uncle, Mike, who for more than two decades (until he retired in the early 1990s) was a police officer in the city.

AND I CAN recall him on a few occasions saying what he thought of people who went to ballgames. His experiences having to provide security for such events had him turned off to the experience.

He thought people who went to ballgames were wasting their time, and putting themselves in an undesirable situation with having to cope with crowds filled with knuckleheads.

Somehow, I suspect if somebody tried offering him a pair of Sox tickets as a reward, he’d think it was a pretty cheap gesture. I doubt he’d use the tickets.

And somehow, while I realize that some police officers are bound to be sports fans, I also doubt my uncle is alone in feeling the way he does.

IT HAS ME wondering how many Chicago cops are going to view the prospect of a pair of tickets as merely something they can try to exchange for a more worthwhile favor from someone else. I'm not implying that cops will scalp the tickets -- that would be illegal!

Because some people would view the chance at free tickets (or anything free) to be a big deal.
McCARTHY: A general, of sorts

But it seems that the White Sox are in fitting with the mood that we all now want to feel – our police department did not act like complete goons during the recently-completed weekend. So now, we have to praise them.

Personally, I think they’re never supposed to act like goons. They’re always supposed to be respectful of the rights of the citizenry, and restrained in their use of physical force.

SO WE’RE TALKING about praising police for doing their jobs. Then again, I also realize that it only would have taken one police officer to lose control of himself for a single moment at some point during the weekend for Chicago to have an “international” incident on its hands.

We’d have the punditry convinced that 1968 was somehow an essential aspect of the character of Chicago – and not just a freak moment reflecting the times that probably would have happened no matter where the convention was held.

But back to 2012 – where we seem to want to engage in a love-fest for the police department because they didn’t screw up.

I stumbled across one report that literally portrayed Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy as a general leading his troops from the front-lines – all because on Sunday when an outburst broke out at Michigan and Cermak avenues, McCarthy was at the scene personally giving orders to the officers who had to push back the few protesters who persisted in trying to get through to the McCormick Place convention center itself.

FOR AN EVENT of the scale of the NATO Summit, I would hope that McCarthy would be on the job and working hard – just like all the other police officers who had their scheduled time-off cancelled and were told they don’t have the option of taking “comp time” to reimburse themselves for their extra work.

I don’t mean to write this commentary as some sort of attack on the police. For I’ll be the first to admit that every cop I encountered this weekend behaved the way they should.

Personally, I’ll always remember the best impression of a Buckingham Palace guard that each Chicago cop I saw managed to do when one protester on Sunday marched in the parade with a fishing rod that had a donut on the hook as bait – and he proceeded to dangle the donut in the face of every cop he came into contact with.

None bit, literally or figuratively. Ignoring the stupid gag was the professional thing to do. Even though the people who like to think they’re about “law and order” probably think the officer s would have been justified in responding in some way.

BUT THAT KIND of act was unnecessary. With the fact that there was such an overbearing police presence in the city during the summit, it helped quell any potential for people who might be feeling a bit randy and thinking they could get away with some act of stupidity that they normally wouldn’t think of doing.

So if both the White Sox and Chicago Cubs felt compelled to have special ceremonies on Wednesday praising the police (the Sox prior to their game against the Minnesota Twins and the Cubs at the district police station located just a couple of blocks east of Wrigley Field), I’d only hope the schmaltz factor doesn’t go overboard.

Because what we have is police doing their job (a very tough job, I’ll concede). Going overboard would trivialize that duty.

  -30-

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

EXTRA: It’s about time!

FITZGERALD: Moving on
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is stepping down from his post – a fact that I’m sure has some political observers quaking in their pants.

These are the people who seem to have had dreams of having Fitzgerald as the top federal prosecutor for Chicago and northern Illinois for life – which is the image that had me quaking in my pants.

SO DO I take some pleasure in the fact that Fitzgerald himself had the sense to realize he’s already held the post far longer than any other man, and that it was time for him to want to step down from the job and do something else with his life?

Yes, I do. And personally (although I doubt he cares what I think) I hope he finds pleasure and success in wherever his life takes him, once he leaves next month. Personally, I envy someone who is secure enough financially to be able to quit a job and take the summer off (as Fitzgerald plans to) to reflect, and figure out what he wants to do.

It was kind of assuring during the past decade to have a federal prosecutor who wasn’t obsessed with the idea of using the post to establish credentials that could help him run for political office someday.

It was also unusual to have a U.S. attorney who so-often was brought in to cases involving federal government or other parts of the country, because he was an expert prosecutor. Usually, our federal prosecutors are themselves little more than aspiring political hacks.

ALTHOUGH HAVING SOMEONE who is so intensely in a prosecutorial mode always made me wonder if that is way too harsh a stance for anyone to have to take – particularly if there’s no real limit on how long that person will be in office.

It was just a few days ago that I finally got around to seeing the film “J. Edgar,” the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle where he depicts FBI head J. Edgar Hoover as an earnest man who believed in law enforcement and science, but allowed the power to go to his head in reinforcing his own hang-ups about society!

At one point, I actually found myself wondering, “How long until Pat Fitzgerald becomes like that?” I’m relieved to know now that it won’t happen.

It’s just that I realize that U.S. attorney has always been a limited position. Generally, somebody gets picked for the post, serves a four-year stint, then moves on. Until now, Fitzgerald wasn’t showing any signs of moving on.

JUST BECAUSE THE kind of people who want to lock everybody up were satisfied wasn’t a good enough reason.

And yes, I’ll concede that whoever replaces Fitzgerald will be very much unlike him. After all, it will be Barack Obama who gets to name the replacement, with the advice senior Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and the consent of the U.S. Senate – which will have to confirm the appointment.

The only real question is whether Republican opposition will try to gum up the works to delay a replacement for as long as possible. Perhaps they have dreams of being able to delay a new U.S. attorney to a future date when it would be GOP officials who would get the final word in choosing a person to be the head prosecutor.

In my “book,” that would be the real immoral act!

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It’s over!

Can we bring in the spirit of Roy Orbison to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of the ideologues who are determined to fight to the death over redistricting?

It has been apparent for quite a while that the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts in Illinois that were drawn last year will survive the decade. Which means the political gamesmanship for the 2010s will be rigged in favor of Democratic Party interests – which want to preserve Chicago’s influence.

BUT FOR THOSE who haven’t been able to take a hint, the Supreme Court of the United States this week made it known that they weren’t going to hear any appeal.

As far as the high court is concerned, there is no legal issue involved in the case that needs to be resolved. Therefore, the appeals court panel of judges from Indiana and Illinois that upheld the boundaries will be allowed to remain in place.

It seems there are two last-ditch appeals still pending – one each in the U.S. and Illinois supreme courts. But no one seems to think either has a chance of success.

Republican interests are suing on the grounds that they were deliberately excluded from any say in the preparation of the political boundaries. Of course, what those interests really wanted was a circumstance in which they drafted the boundaries and Democrats were excluded.

SUCH AS WHAT happened in the early 1990s!

So for them to make that argument now just comes across as hypocritical. The fact is that state law creates a procedure by which certain officials get a say in approving new boundaries. And the outcome of the 2010 election cycle for state government posts resulted in ALL of those officials being Democrat.
This week's theme music?

If we had gotten a Gov. William Brady, he would have been able to use his veto power to smack down all of this work. But we didn’t get that. We have a Chicago-centric state government – which may well accurately reflect the fact that two-thirds of Illinois’ population lives in the Chicago metro area.

Which is why it likely is best that the high court is refusing to let this issue drag out any longer.

OF COURSE, CONSIDERING the fact that some members of the nation’s Supreme Court are known to have their own ideological leanings, it could well be that they are merely ‘writing off’ Illinois.

Perhaps the ideologues, in being practical, are going to focus their attention on the election cycles so as to create GOP majorities that would effectively put Illinois in the minority column.

Let’s not forget places like Texas, where the Republican majority there managed to craft a map that makes Illinois’ boundaries look like a League of Women Voters’ fantasy.

Considering that it was the league’s lawsuit in Illinois that the Supreme Court refused to hear, that is saying something.

WHICH IS WHY many political observers believe that the Illinois redistricting is all too integral to any effort on the national level to keep conservative interests from using Republicans from overwhelming the country – even the parts that have no interest in their rhetoric.

As for those people who are going to argue that it is wrong to think of redistricting in such cold terms, I’d argue that it is merely being realistic. There are times when those GOP interests have prevailed in Illinois. This cycle isn’t going to be one of them.

Ultimately, it comes down to the idea that there was a procedure to be followed, and state officials followed it. The fact that political partisanship influenced the process is, sadly, a reality.

As for those who are going to argue that computer programs should be used to draw politically “neutral” congressional and legislative boundaries, I’d argue that computer programs are only as neutral as the people who program them.

WHICH IS TO say that a computer geek could set criteria for political districts that, in and of themselves, have their own agenda. Just like those people who argue that districts should always be perfect squares or rectangles that should NEVER cross over county lines, or those who want ethnic or racial factors to be downplayed.

Because in many cases, those factors can become the obstacles to crafting boundaries that accurately represent our state’s population overall.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Not all activity confined to Chicago

Why do I suspect that long after the typical Chicagoan has forgotten about the “chaos” caused by NATO Summit protesters, they’re still going to be pondering what happened Saturday in suburban Tinley Park?

That “happening” was an off-the-wall attack that took place at the Ashford House restaurant on 159th Street in the southwest suburb, which on Monday looked from the outside like nothing was out-of-the ordinary.

A DIGITAL SIGNBOARD outside the restaurant touted prime rib dinners for $30 apiece.

Yet just about every report coming up these days indicates that business has stunk the past two days. Nobody seems too anxious to eat there, even though the area is far from a high-crime neighborhood.

This was the restaurant where a group of up to 15 people (the number keeps changing, but seems to be about a dozen) were attacked by masked men who charged into the restaurant bearing bats and hammers.

Five people from that latter group have been arrested, and bond has been set for them on the criminal charges they now face.

BUT BEFORE ONE gets the sense that these were innocent bystanders who got beat up, it seems that among the portions of the Internet that attract the white supremacists of the world, this gathering at the restaurant was being billed as almost a convention, of sorts, for white supremacists.

Or white racialists. Or white nationalists, or whatever other goofy label those people try to come up with to legitimize their bigoted babble.

And from what police have said, the group that did the attacking is describing itself as an “anti-racism” group that seems to want to take things up a notch in expressing their opposition to a group of people who are a stain on our society.

At this point, nobody really knows for sure what any of these people really stand for, although Cook County prosecutors said during bond hearings for the five men now facing charges that the people who were attacked were all part of a group calling itself the Illinois European Heritage Association.

IS THIS REALLY just a group of white people who are taking pride in their ethnic origins? Or is that use of ethnicity just a cover for a group that dreams of the day when they can have a supremacy in our society that they don’t seem to merit by their own qualifications!

Personally, I have found that groups with legitimate interests in promoting their ethnicity are specific about what their ethnic origins are. “European” in this context is overly generic and reeks a bit too much not so much of “white” but of “not black.”

So it is believable that these people who got attacked aren’t exactly like you or me, even though I have noticed some conservative ideologues already are anxious to portray this event as a matter of violence against regular people trying to eat a meal.

Nonsense!!!!

WHAT CATCHES MY attention about all of this is the fact that none of these people have anything to do with the Chicago area. With the exception of the couple of restaurant employees who happened to be working Saturday when the outburst occurred and got caught – so to speak – in the crossfire.

The European “Heritage” group’s members don’t live around here. The people who organized this “event” said they chose suburban Tinley Park because of its centralized location – which is true because of the fact that Interstate 80 cuts through the southern edge of town and Interstate 57 is just to the east.

Which in all likelihood is why the now-shuttered Lane Bryant store in Tinley Park was the site of that 2008 shooting that left five people dead. It was all about location.

It would be easy for those living around the Midwestern U.S. to drive to this location without having to travel too deeply into Chicago proper.

EVENB AMONG THE five men who are the attackers and who believe they are standing up for decency and justice in our society aren’t from here. They all gave Indiana addresses – and I don’t mean the part of the Chicago metro area that crosses over State Line Road into the Hoosier State.

Every single one of these individuals made a special (and lengthy) trip to be here.

Why couldn’t they have found some other way of keeping themselves busy this weekend? Why not just stay home and cause trouble there?

A part of me is pleased to know that these are out-of-towners. Because it makes me glad to believe that the people of metro Chicago, by and large, are too sane to do something like this.

IT’S THOSE WACKY out-of-towners, who perhaps have turned out like this because they don’t experience the joys of living in Chicago – which I will always view as one of the nation’s great cities.

Then, there’s the bottom line. For an event that some believe was meant to be a gathering of racists to engage in trite trash-talk, there’s something about the image that they could only get a dozen people to show up that is reassuring.

The overwhelming majority of us are too sane to take such talk seriously.

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