Monday, July 28, 2014

Did 'Tomahawk Chop' overwhelm White Sox, Chicago moments of glory?

(Not in) COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- On the day that long-time Chicago White Sox hitter Frank Thomas got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, one of the sights seen Sunday was that of a lone White Sox jersey-clad fan surrounded by Atlanta Braves fans who persisted in performing their nonsensical Tomahawk Chop.

Then again, maybe it was symbolic of what the White Sox franchise's fan base is like -- a small group of die-hards wondering why all the baseball fans around them get worked up over such nonsense.

BUT SUNDAY WAS the day that Thomas was formally inducted into the Hall of Fame, which is a designation he will continue to have long after he passes on from this particular realm of existence.

All those Atlanta fans (whom I'm sure could care less about how silly they looked or how some will claim their "chop" is racist and offensive) were on hand because of the fact that the manager and two top pitchers from their string of winning ball clubs of the 1990s all got into the Hall of Fame as well.

But those of us focused on the Second City merely viewed that as the prelude to seeing Thomas get his honors, with some even noting the fact that long-time manager Tony LaRussa began his career as a major league skipper on the South Side.

We're the ones who took some pleasure in seeing the tearful (literally, his voice kept choking up, particularly when speaking of his late father) Thomas try to make sure to thank everyone who had an influence on his life. "I'm an emotional guy who wears my heart on my sleeve," he said.

HE SPENT QUITE a bit of time talking of his family. But also worked his way through the nearly 850 ballplayers he was teammates with. Not that he actually named them all. But he rattled through a list of nicknames that included a lot of otherwise long-forgotten White Sox players.

Some of whom I'm sure only the most hard-core of fans remember.

Although he also gave some more detailed credit to long-time hitting coach Walt Hriniak, broadcaster Ken Harrelson (who came up with the "Big Hurt" nickname that may be the "Hawk's" lasting contribution to baseball) and manager Ozzie Guillen.

The latter for, "leading us to my only (championship) ring" in 2005. Of whom fellow teammates Jermaine Dye (the World Series MVP that year) and Aaron Rowand were present in Cooperstown on Sunday.

I'D BE REMISS if I wrote that Thomas was the only Chicago moment.

For Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux acknowledged the fact that half of his major league stint was with the Chicago Cubs, and he gave that 1989 ball club (managed by the late Don Zimmer) that went to the National League playoffs some recognition.

He even downplayed the ineptitude of Cubs management that let Maddux go even though it was apparent he was one of the best baseball pitchers of the era, saying instead on Sunday he left Chicago for Atlanta because he was looking for a nice place to raise a family.

Even LaRussa included the Chicago memories, even though many baseball fans tend to forget the 1983 division title White Sox to focus on the championship ball clubs Tony led in Oakland and with the St. Louis Cardinals.

LaRUSSA DIDN'T. HE mentioned those early-to-mid-1980s White Sox teams that had future Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk and Tom Seaver, along with talented leaders such as Greg Luzinski (he of the multiple rooftop shots, of which we can only dream how many Thomas would have hit if the old Comiskey Park were still standing) and Jerry Koosman.

LaRussa also gave a jolt to many White Sox fans when he recalled fan favorite Harold Baines, who came close to getting 3,000 base hits during his career and has some fans believing he should be a Hall of Famer as well.

"Like Tony Oliva (the Minnesota Twin star of the late 1960s), if (Harold) had kept his knees together (injuries), he'd have had his 3,000 hits," LaRussa said.

Perhaps that train of thought will influence the Veterans Committees the Hall of Fame has that give second chance consideration to ballplayers who fall short of induction like Baines himself has thus far.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Too many unfunny laughs on Illnois' gubernatorial trail to endure at once

Phony headlines, or phony political praise?

That's what we're seeing these days in the political duel taking place between Gov. Pat Quinn and the venture capitalist using the Republican label to try to send him into unemployment.

I'M STILL TRYING to figure out which story related to the gubernatorial campaign is more lame -- the pseudo-support Quinn got from first lady Michelle Obama, or the pseudo headlines appearing in campaign spots promoting Quinn challenger Bruce Rauner.

On the surface, the fact that the first lady is speaking out publicly in favor of Quinn ought to be a plus. There are many public officials these days bearing the "Democrat" label who, if I promise them "off-the-record" status, will eagerly make all kinds of snotty comments about Quinn and how worthless they believe he is.

It is that kind of attitude that Rauner is hoping to play into -- a Democratic Party apathy that will cause many of their backers to stay home on Nov. 4.

That could make the rural Illinois/business executive coalition large enough to actually win an election in a state where a Republican candidate with no political experience like Rauner ought to be dead meat.

MICHELLE OBAMA USED a campaign event this week to urge people to make sizable donations to the Democratic Party's candidates and to turn out for Quinn in Illinois.

"We need to do everything in our power to get him over the finish line," she said. Which in a sense is true for Obama, whose influence would wind up being diminished if his own home state picks the opposition political party for its new leader.

But how many people really listen to federal officials when it comes to these elections? It comes down to the old Tip O'Neill saying, "All politics are local."

Besides, I still remember back in 2010 when President Barack Obama himself made a point of campaigning in Illinois to benefit the local Dems running for Congress.

MOST OF THEM wound up being defeated. Tea Party-types beat up on them -- such as the case of someone like Debbie Halvorson; the one-time state senator who wound up getting one two-year term in Congress before becoming a political has-been.

She got swept in by the Obama-love movement of 2008, then brushed out again in 2010 by the Obama-is-a-Muslim/terrorist/Communist/whatever other slur they can think of types in our society.

She wasn't alone.

Quinn won that year, but that was more because Republican opponent William Brady came across as so blatantly rural and hostile to Chicago interests that Chicago voters turned out en masse.

RAUNER ISN'T GOING to make that same mistake just over three months from now.

President Obama had little to do with Quinn's victory in 2010. I doubt the first lady will have much influence in turning out votes for the governor in November.

People who think she will be just don't seem to get it.

Although they're not as ridiculous as the Rauner camp seems to be these days with their new campaign attack ad that features newspaper "headlines" that, the Chicago Tribune figured out, never actually appeared in any newspapers.

THEY WANT THE credibility that the printed word conveys with its sense of permanence (at least compared to the Internet where things perpetually disappear, only to reappear when least desired). But they want their own take on these alleged headline facts.

Quinn aides are attacking Rauner, who's trying to claim that they're disseminating accurate information. They want Quinn to "Shut Up" and take the blows they wish to dish out to him.

But what amuses me about this line of defense is that a similar controversy came up in 2004 when documentary filmmaker Michael Moore got hit with the same accusation for "Fahrenheit 9/11."

His movie came up with "headlines" that showed negative news coverage of then-President George W. Bush. Except that one of the headlines that supposedly appeared in the Bloomington Pantagraph newspaper was actually a headline that appeared on someone's "Letter to the Editor," rather than on an actual story of fact.

THE IDEOLOGUES WHO like to trash people still demonize Moore for "making up" facts to bolster his film.

But I'm sure these same people will eagerly defend Rauner -- whose defense sounds remarkably the same as what Moore offered up.

Which makes the whole thing such a line of bunk -- yet another phony controversy to go along with a not-so-legitimate endorsement from the White House.

Although I'm sure the people who want to believe it all also lapped up every single word spewed during Rauner's campaign appearance with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Any new traffic jam jokes?


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are Rauner/Edgar alike on taxes?

It was the 1994 election cycle in Illinois when Gov. Jim Edgar blasted (and whomped all over) Democratic opponent Dawn Clark Netsch for her proposal to shift public education funding from local property taxes to state income taxes.

It would result in significant tax hikes, Edgar said. Netsch would wind up harming the populace of Illinois. Just as current Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner is claiming Gov. Pat Quinn will do with his desire to have the state income tax remain at a higher level -- rather than revert back to the levels of old.

RAUNER WANTS TO think this single issue will result in Illinois voters dumping Quinn come Nov. 4. He's spending millions to ensure that thought gets pumped into the mindset of the electorate.

There's just one thing to contemplate. A few years after lambasting Netsch, Edgar tried unsuccessfully to implement a state education funding reform proposal that many political observers said was identical to Netsch's rhetoric.

History seems to be repeating itself in this election cycle. For Rauner spoke with the Chicago Tribune, which reported Thursday that he says the idea of a sudden decrease in the state income tax (the concept that he's trying to peddle to ideologically-minded voters) isn't going to happen.

He told the newspaper that the bottom line isn't getting back to 3 percent for an income tax (it has been 5 percent in recent years), but is now creating a more business-friendly climate in Illinois.

THAT WILL INCLUDE some sort of cut. But it might not be the full cut that some people are being led to believe is their birthright.

The part of the Tribune report that caught my attention was the concept that the final tax rate is going to wind up being negotiated by Rauner with the General Assembly.

Does Rauner himself realize that the concept he's peddling to voters of an income tax rate restoration is not realistic, and probably dangerous to the financial status of Illinois?

The state has obligations, and is going to need the revenue to meet them. There's just no getting around that. And whether one likes the idea of the higher income tax rate, there is a sense that Quinn is telling us the ugly truth when saying it needs to remain in place.

SO WHAT SHOULD we think of Rauner? I'm not about to call him a liar!

More a political opportunist. Making statements that sound good in their simplicity for people who can't stand the idea that government isn't simple. The kind of people for whom details are what is wrong with government officials.

Maybe those individuals will become disenchanted with Rauner. Only he's hoping it doesn't happen for another year, by which time he's entrenched in office and has until early 2019 to get something done.

But keep in mind that the rest of Illinois government is going to remain partisan to the Democratic Party. For the Legislature itself remains Dem-leaning and is not likely to change.

REPUBLICANS ARE PUTTING so little effort into the campaigns of other candidates running for office in this year's election cycle that Illinois will still have a Democratic-leaning government structure.

The truth is that Rauner, the candidate, is one of those business executives whose ego would like to have a political office in his life's story, and he thinks he can be the CEO of Illinois government.

Perhaps he thinks the Legislature is the equivalent of a board of directors put in place to rubber-stamp his decisions. Which just isn't going to be the case. Perhaps he's watched too much of the City Council and the way it kow-tows to the mayor?

It isn't going to happen on the Springfield scene anytime soon. Which makes me wonder if the day will come that people will ponder a Quinn defeat this year the same way they wonder what could have been if Netsch could have had an adequate campaign fund to fight back against Edgar's allegations.

THEN AGAIN, QUINN has the campaign fund to get his message out, even though he will get outspent by Rauner's personal contributions -- along with the millions coming from business interests who want a governor who will kneel before their desires.

It's not like a Rauner victory is really going to result in a sudden drop in the income tax, the way the ideologues fantasize about.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No weather-related complaints here!

I don't want to hear any complaints from people concerning the weather.

I'm talking about the fact that it is expected to be hot Tuesday. Temperatures in the 90s, with other factors in play that make it feel more like 100 degrees.


But I can't help but find it refreshing. Because I still recall Jan. 6 and those other days early in 2014 when we got hit with Arctic-like temperatures. That was cold. And messy with the frozen snowfall.

Besides, this is summertime in Chicago. It's supposed to get hot this time of year.

Not that I objected to the cool breezes of recent days. They were relaxing. But Tuesday's heat blast across the Midwestern U.S. seems more like a jolt of reality.

THAT, AND THE fact that Chicago has two ball clubs with losing records, with a mediocre football team scheduled to begin training camp next week, means that all is right with the world in the Second City.

Which means instead of whining about the weather, we ought to focus our attention on learning to pronounce "Bourbonnais." Lest we want to sound buffoonish in our upcoming rants about the Bears.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pols put impersonal ‘personal’ touch to their pleas for our money

In my e-mail inbox Wednesday when I woke up were messages from “President Obama” and “Governor Quinn.”

No, I’m not trying to claim that I’m some sort of big-shot who has the ears of the top officials of federal and Illinois government. In the case of Quinn, I’m fairly sure that on the rare occasions he thinks of me, it’s as some sort of colossal pain-in-the-behind.

IT’S JUST THAT I couldn’t help but be amused by the latest fund-raising pitches made by both officials; resorting to that now-common political tactic of sending out these messages to make it feel like they’re reaching out to me, little old me, for a bit of help.

In the case of Quinn, he wants money to pay for his re-election bid against venture capitalist Bruce Rauner – who has millions of his own money to spend and has shown a willingness to use it in his crusade to get votes by convincing us that, “Pat Quinn is Evil!”

So Quinn is asking us for donations. Not much of one, actually. Only $5.

But that supposedly gets us entered into a raffle, with the result being two people will “win” the big prize of attending a Chicago White Sox game with Quinn – who himself is a season-ticket holder, but insists on maintaining a man-of-the-people image by having his seats in the upper deck that causes so much derision for U.S. Cellular Field.

A BALLGAME WITH the guv. While the rest of us chip in those dinky donations that add up to significant amounts of money for Quinn to campaign against Rauner.

Personally, the thought of a political ballgame isn’t that thrilling. Many years ago, I accompanied then-Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to what was then-New Comiskey Park, and had her turn on me during a lull in the game to point out past stories I had written that she thought were snotty in tone.

There also was a time about a decade ago when I went to a rare weekday afternoon White Sox game, and encountered a legislative chief of staff in the beer line, former state Senate President Phil Rock mingling with the crowd, and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan relieving himself (along with many other fans) following the ballgame.

So a hot dog with the governor? Actually, I view baseball as something to follow to get away from the nonsense of the political world (although the story behind the construction of U.S. Cellular Field is the ultimate commingling of the two).

ALTHOUGH IT’S REALLY not about baseball. It’s about money. It’s meant to be a different pitch to get people to dig into their wallets for political purposes.

Just like the president is doing. Only he’s not offering to take anyone out to the ballpark. He’s trying to stir up resentment among the public to the lawsuit that Republicans in Congress want to file against Obama – contending that he’s violating all sense of decency by trying to go around their desires by using executive authority powers.

Considering that Congress, because of the Republican House of Representatives majority, is deliberately stalling so many issues, a part of me wonders if a more legitimate lawsuit would be to sue GOPers for governmental inactivity.

But in recent days, I have been getting repeated e-mails bearing the names of assorted Democratic Party operatives and officials (including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who the Washington Post reported Wednesday was talking about how she has dreams of retaking control of the House come the Nov. 4 elections) asking for money, telling me how House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will win and cause irrevocable harm unless I kick in my money for the cause.

AND ON WEDNESDAY came the similar, almost identical, message in the name of the president himself.

The bottom line? I didn’t give Quinn my $5. Nor did I make the $3 donation desired by Democrats (who like to come up with daily causes, it seems, for me to kick in my three bucks).

Partly because I don’t donate money to political people or sign their petitions. Partly because I’m cheap.

And partly because I did what I suspect many real people wish they could do to much of the politically partisan rhetoric they hear these days – I hit the “delete” button.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Will voters decide dumping Rahm more important than keeping Quinn?

51-39. 45-36.

Those are the latest poll results in the two big elections coming in the next few months.

THE FIRST IS the margin by which Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner leads Gov. Pat Quinn in a study by the We Ask America polling group.

The latter are poll results by the same group of the 2015 mayoral election – if it turns out to be a head-to-head race between Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

I’m sure there are those individuals who will want to view those results as evidence of a “throw the bums out” mentality at work. Although I’m not convinced. I suspect that most people who are displeased about the current political state are more focused about dumping Rahm than anything else.

It is that sense of apathy toward Illinois government that may result in the Democratic vote of Chicago not turning out in strong-enough numbers to help Quinn come Nov. 4.

SUCH A STRONG “blue” state as Illinois would not be giving a Republican an 11-point lead IF Chicago voters cared. It is the reason William Brady was able to dominate all of Illinois outside of Cook County, yet still lose the 2010 election cycle for governor.

Chicago cared enough about the thought of a Brady victory that they turned out in force for Quinn. It is the reason Quinn is engaging in so many campaign attacks to make Rauner out to be a rich guy with nothing in common with real Chicagoans.

The one about him paying ridiculously-high prices for a parking space near his Near North Side residence is something that nobody outside of that neighborhood will comprehend. But is it enough to stir up resentment and a strong voter turnout?

I think many Chicago voters are getting swept up with the sentiment of trying to find a replacement for Rahm Emanuel.

HENCE, THE LATEST poll that shows Emanuel losing not only to Lewis, but to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Which is interesting in that neither one is actually a candidate for the February mayoral election, although the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Lewis has created an unofficial exploratory committee and is starting to take some of the other actions that a real candidate would take.

Although Emanuel has such a large financial advantage and the opposition has so little time to try to catch up that he still ought to be considered the electoral favorite. Which is why she made the political announcement Tuesday that some people are determined to disbelieve -- she's NOT running for mayor next year!

That same We Ask America poll showed that the one officially-declared challenger to Emanuel – former Alderman and county official Robert Shaw – would get his butt kicked by Rahm. 48 percent to 30 percent, to be exact.

THERE’S ALSO THE fact that the poll treats the mayoral campaign as a head-to-head race, instead of Rahm against several opponents who will cut into his opposition. That just isn’t real.

I suspect that the large leads for Lewis and Preckwinkle are based on the idea that they look better than the incumbent, at least until we start seeing them up close. Then we’ll discover their political warts and Emanuel’s money will make sure every one of them gets analyzed and exaggerated.

Just as Rauner is trying to use his personal fortune to pay for a campaign that repeatedly pumps into our heads the concept of “Pat Quinn is Evil.” That, and “Don’t Look Too Closely at My Flaws.”

Will people care about the long-term care homes owned by a Rauner-controlled company whose care was less-than-stellar? As reported by the Lee Enterprises chain of newspapers that includes the Times of Northwest Indiana? Or will it come across as too technical and cause potential voters’ eyes to glaze over?

IT JUST MAKES me wonder how will voters perceive things if Rauner winds up winning in November, then Emanuel prevails in February (or in an April run-off election)?

Why do I suspect that the combination of political friends Rahm and Rauner would wind up putting the ultimate fright into those individuals who are clamoring for radical change?!?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Abreu vs. Puig would have been worthy

Let me state up-front that I could care less about the Home Run Derby.

The whole exhibition of watching baseball sluggers take their best whacks against batting practice pitchers to see who can hit the most balls into the outfield seats just isn't that thrilling.

THERE IS SOMETHING intriguing about going to a ballgame and catching the pre-game ritual of watching a hitter try to gain his timing so that he doesn't go into the game and get skunked by real-life pitching.

It can be relaxing. It can even be entertaining in its own way. But it's not the whole show.

Even though EPSN would have you think it was from the spectacle they broadcast Monday night, and which fans packed their way into Minneapolis' Target Field. I couldn't bear to watch it, even though I'm a baseball fan and think the All-Star Game to be played Tuesday is a fun ritual.

But listening to broadcaster Art Berman go on and on about how baseball "history" was being made by the phony spectacle? That was too much to have to bear.

NOW HAVING SAID all that, I have to admit that a part of me kind of wishes that Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu had chosen to participate in the event.

For what it's worth, Abreu is the Cuban star who defected and wound up with the White Sox, and is turning into the very ballplayer the Chicago Cubs wish they had -- someone to entertain the fans with on-field antics while the team rebuilds.

Abreu is also the American League leader in home runs (29, thus far) and is near the top of the league with 73 runs batted in.

But Abreu is of the type of ballplayer who seems to think that the whole Home Run Derby exhibition will throw off his swing and wind up hurting the White Sox in the long run.

IT MAY BE true. Although there's a part of me who thinks such ballplayers are taking themselves way too seriously, and THAT is what will wind up hurting the ball club.

It would have been interesting to see Abreu take his cuts and try to show off the power on a national stage that White Sox fans have been seeing thus far this season.

That kind of attention might have even been useful to the White Sox organization. And it would have made for an entertaining spectacle.

Although there's also the part of me that would have liked to have seen such a show become a showdown between Abreu and Yasiel Puig -- the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger who also is a Cuban defector of sorts.

AND YES, THE two men do know each other. Both of them played for Cienfuegos in the Cuban League before they decided to flee for bigger and better money playing beisbol in the United States.

I'm sure any personal touch could have added to the event's flavor.

Instead, we'll likely have to settle for seeing Abreu get a lone at-bat at some point in the game to be played Tuesday. Perhaps we'll get lucky and it will be a hit that has a role in an American League victory.

Although I suspect the fact that another White Sox All-Star, Alexi Ramirez, is complaining of a bad back. Because since I suspect this year's All-Star game is meant to be a Derek Jeter farewell show, it isn't likely that a fellow shortstop is going to get many moments.

THEN AGAIN, I suppose White Sox fans could face the predicament of the Cubs -- whose "star" pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, got elected to the team right after the Cubs traded him away.

Of course, the American League-best Oakland Athletics (59 victories thus far this season) probably have better use for a worthwhile pitcher than the Cubs do.

For anyone can give up the home runs flying over the ivy and out of Wrigley Field on any given day!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Congress opposition to Obama reeks of memories of 'Council Wars' of old

I've stumbled across commentary from the conservative ideologues who claim that the latest controversy concerning children from Latin American nations showing up at the U.S./Mexico border is the ultimate evidence of President Barack Obama's ineptitude in office.

They say his failure to offer up a quick, and definitive, solution to this problem is a sign that he's weak and should never have been elected to office.

OF COURSE, WHAT doesn't get said in these instances is that the solution they want probably is just one step removed from armed troops at the border -- prepared to do a re-enactment of the National Guard at Kent State University if those miniature foreign freaks comes too close to the border.

Obama's solution, thus far, was to ask earlier this week for some $3.7 billion (yes, "B" for billions) for funds that would be used to cover the cost of humanitarian aid for this flood of children headed for the United States.

It might well turn out that most of the kids will be turned away, sent back home, once they are checked out here. A few might find legitimate places to stay in this country.

But that goes counter to the ideologue way of thinking, which wants to view these young people as "illegals in training" (or maybe, illegal-ites) for whom there must be a hard-line approach to giving them the boot.

YES, I'M REFERRING to those nitwits who spent their Independence Day gathered at the border in Murrietta, Calif., chanting "U.S.A., U.S.A." and "Go Home!" at busloads of kids who were arriving to be processed.

In short, to determine the responsible approach for dealing with them. Instead, nonsense rants shouted down common sense, and those busloads were intimidated away from Border Patrol processing centers.

These are the same people who are getting grouchy at the thought of Obama citing the need for some federal funds to cover the cost of determining what needs to be done with the situation.

These also are likely the same people who are wetting their pants with glee at the thought of one-time Vice Presidential dreamer Sarah Palin going around using the "I" word (as in "impeachment") to talk about the president.

FOR SOME PEOPLE, that is the reason they're excited about the Nov. 4 election cycle. Keep control of the House of Representatives, and gain a large-enough caucus in the Senate that you can dominate activity there, and suddenly the thought of "impeachment" isn't a fantasy.

The nutjobs of our society will be able to actually take a partisan vote so they can tag the Obama legacy with the thought of removal from office. They couldn't beat him at the polling place, so they're going all out in their ideological fantasies.

If there is one thing Obama is guilty of, it's that he hasn't dealt harshly enough with these people. Just as how he has gone this far into his presidency without trying to do anything other than give lip service to serious immigration reform.

Does Obama really have a blind eye as to how intensely certain elements of our society despise his ideals and are determined to oppose everything that the people who voted him into office wanted (and expected) from him?

AS FOR THE new round of funding, it sounds like a tremendous amount for those who put their entire focus on municipal activity and state officials -- and expect federal representatives to do what they are told by the local types who usually have no comprehension of the big picture.

But we're talking about funds that will go for expansion of the Border Patrol and other operations -- including the hiring of more immigration judges and conducting of aerial surveillance.

Operations that the ideological types would usually be the first to call for. Except they don't want a certain president to wind up getting credit for handling a situation (some 52,000 minors arriving in this country without any adult supervision during the past three weeks) in a responsible manner.

Which is why we get the trash talk, and the reluctance from Republicans in Congress to back this latest round of funding.

IT REALLY IS all so reminiscent of the "Council Wars" we in Chicago experienced some three decades ago in the City Council -- when an opposition determined to take down then-Mayor Harold Washington was willing to stall the city government into submission.

Short-term harm to government was justified by the thought that a chief executive of their own preference could fix the problems they were causing for partisan and racial reasons.

Perhaps we need to keep that in mind as we watch the activity toward Obama in Washington in coming months.


Monday, July 7, 2014

What should we think about safety?

We’re not safer. We’re just crummier shots.”

That was the  observation I heard from a Jewel bagboy when, while bagging some grocery items I was buying, he took a glimpse of the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times I purchased.

 THAT FRONT PAGE  gave us the headline “Under The Gun,” and teased a story about how the number of people killed in Chicago this year thus far is less than what it was last year.


 The number of shooting incidents that have occurred this year compared to last is on the rise.

 Specifically, 5 percent fewer people killed but 8 percent more incidents involving gunfire, according to the Sun-Times for the first six months of 2014 compared to the first half of 2013 – which was a way-above-average year.

 ONE IN WHICH people would have to look back into Chicago history to find a period that was more violent than ’13 was for the Second City.

 Now I’m not about to take seriously the views of a guy who managed to avoid crushing my grocery items while putting them into plastic bags. I’m well aware that he was trying to make a joke while engaging in some small talk to keep himself from being bored.

 He also speculated about how wonderful Jose Abreu was for the Chicago White Sox this year. Is he a top-notch sports commentator?

 Besides, a part of me wanted to retort as a gag that perhaps that the statistical combination  was evidence of the advancement of medical techniques – we’re saving more lives of gunshot victims.

 THE REALITY IS more a matter of  the fact that there are certain parts of  Chicago that have become so violent – and so isolated from the rest of the city that it is way too easy to ignore what happens there.

 While also looking at the fact that there are certain neighborhoods in Chicago where violence, homicide and crime in general is so low that some of us want to believe all the crime stats must be some sort of lie!

 Which is a shame because, in some ways, Chicago is no better or stronger than its weakest, most violent neighborhoods,

 We can brag about the Gold Coast (although my memory of a quarter-century of news stories I wrote about includes people who were shot and killed there too) and try to pretend that Englewood is an alien land.

 BUT THAT KIND of  rhetoric just makes us all seem foolish. Besides, even if the number of people killed is on the decline, there’s still the reality that even one homicide is one too many.

 And to the people directly impacted by the list of the deceased, that one is all that matters. Too many families get devastated, then forgotten about in the mess of murder statistics that are being compiled.

 The sad part is that just the other day, I stumbled across some four-decade-old reruns of “Good Times,” the show where Jimmie Walker tried to become the clown prince of the Chicago ghetto and public housing.

 The episodes I saw were the two-part tale of where Walker’s “J.J.” character was shot by a streetgang member who was trying to recruit/pressure him into joining the “gang.”

 FOR A COMEDY television series, it was way too real. For J.J.’s gunman, gang leader “Mad Dog” wound up getting probation for the shooting because there was no space available to hold him either at the youth home in St. Charles or at the Cook County Jail.

 Those are a set of circumstances that were all too real in 1970s Chicago, and remain true today. How many “Mad Dogs” (his real name was supposed to be “Cleon”) are being produced by the rising numbers of shootings occurring in Chicago?

And isn’t that a more significant problem than however many homicides are occurring? You want numbers, check out 11, 25 and .312 – the home run total, runs batted in and batting average for Abreu during the month of June.

 They’re less depressing to think about.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Ought to be much about nothing

The fact that 33rd Ward Alderman Deborah Mell is getting divorced ought to be the ultimate ho-hum attempt at a news story; something that comes across as cheap and petty even for an Independence Day holiday weekend.

But Mell’s recent announcement, which she made via her Twitter account, that her marriage of three years has come to an end is gaining attention. To the point where I’m wondering how many petty people are going to try to draw this out into something it’s not.

WHAT CAPTURES ATTENTION about this marriage was the fact that Mell’s wife was Christin Baker. The couple became engaged in 2010 (with Mell, then a state representative, making a pronouncement on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives).

Then, because they couldn’t wait for Illinois to get its act together on the issue of legitimate marriage for gay couples, they went to Iowa to be married.

If they had held out for an Illinois wedding, it wouldn’t have occurred until earlier this year – perhaps during the past month.

But then, it would have been too late. For the couple seems to have irreconcilable differences. News accounts indicate Baker has taken a new job in Birmingham, Ala. They have split.

I’M SURE SOME people are going to rant and rage against gay marriage and claim this ought to be evidence that such unions are somehow unnatural and unlasting.

Which is nonsense, of course. Just look at the number of so-called straight couples who can’t make it past a couple of years of marriage. Was their time together any less legitimate? If it was, perhaps we ought to be abolishing the concept of marriage altogether.

Not that anybody with sense is calling for that. If anything, all this means is that partnerships and pairings are fragile and filled with potential for problems. The last thing those couples need are harassment from those with such ideological hang-ups that they need to get a hobby. Perhaps they can rush out to Hobby Lobby to find something to do from people inclined to share their hang-ups about life?

What else is notable about life following Independence Day on the shores of Lake Michigan?

COP BUDDIES STICKING TOGETHER?: The Illinois Supreme Court issued a ruling this week that upholds the ability of one-time Pullman Area Violent Crimes Commander Jon Burge to keep his pension – even though he’s the cop who led the far South Side unit that reportedly was beating confessions out of criminal suspects on a regular basis.

Burge, 66, and retired for more than two decades, is now in a federal correctional center in North Carolina. But for the act of perjury in a lawsuit related to his actions; not for the actions themselves.

The state’s high court ruled that a Cook County judge was correct to prevent the Illinois attorney general’s office from intervening in the case when a police pension board upheld Burge’s retirement payments.

It seems the board members who were former police officers favored Burge, saying his criminal act came after he left the police. They out-voted the non-former police officer members who would have revoked retirement benefits.

DON’T YOU DARE CUT RETIREE PENSIONS: It’s going to be interesting to see just how officials are capable of reforming the way public pension programs are funded.

For the state Supreme Court also ruled this week that retirees can’t be forced to pay for the retirement benefits previously promised.

State Attorney General Lisa Madigan is claiming that’s a narrow legal issue, but others see it as broader and a move in the direction of saying that there’s going to have to be some other form of reform. Either that, or the retirees literally will bankrupt Illinois government into oblivion.

As if Friday night fireworks didn’t give you enough of a headache.

BAD ATTITUDES IN BRIDGEVIEW?: The Chicago Fire professional soccer team felt compelled to issue a statement this week, telling their fans to watch their mouths.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Spanish-speaking fans have taken to using slurs for homosexuals to taunt opposing players. Before you start attacking Latinos, keep in mind that some peoples’ extent of the Spanish language are the slurs and obscenities.

Which bothers the team because they want people to make the trek out to their suburban Bridgeview stadium to watch games – particularly in the weeks following the World Cup.

Perhaps hoping that some newly-converted types will want to see live matches and will want to spend money, much money, while at Toyota Park.


Friday, July 4, 2014

It's all too routine a routine for a day celebrating an unroutine concept

I still recall what I did some 38 years ago on this date -- the almighty Bicentennial. One once-in-a-lifetime event that was truly unique in the celebration of our nation and its unique take on Democracy.

I spent it with family at my Uncle Carlos' house in suburban Park Forest (which at the time seemed to me to be at the edge of the world -- it is on the Cook/Will County border).

MY UNCLE DUG out the barbecue grill, we ate some food, watched some fireworks displays in the evening. And somehow, my cousin Carlos managed to come up with some firecrackers, causing us younger family members (I was 10 that summer) to find things to blow up.

It most definitely was NOT some high-minded ideal celebration about the purpose of Democracy. I'm sure if anyone had come along and tried talking that way, we probably would have lit a couple of firecrackers and flung them his (or her) way to scare him off.

Yet somehow, I doubt we were any different than 99 percent of the rest of the populace that was alive on July 4, 1976. We used the day as one of outdoor relaxation, rather than one of patriotic reflection.

Just like I suspect the celebration we had all those years ago will be repeated in so many forms on Friday -- when our nation officially becomes 238 years old.

PEOPLE WILL BE all concerned about the quality of the meat they're cooking up (or the texture of the tofu for those who can't take the idea of beef), and making sure it is appropriately cooked. Although the thought of all the beef that will be cooked to a crisp (as in well-done) makes me nauceous.

Some of them probably will find some obnoxious-looking flag motif shirt or shorts to wear , and claim it to be evidence of their patriotism. Just like all those gaudily-clad people of recent weeks who rooted for the U.S. national soccer team. Although I always wonder how many of those people had grand-parents who some 50 years ago lambasted Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman as a traitor and disrespectful for wearing that U.S.-flag motif shirt at anti-Vietnam War -protests.

For all I know, some may even spend part of the day lambasting President Barack Obama; who in recent days said he was preparing to move forward on executive orders to implement portions of immigration policy reform.

Even though if you want to be honest, it is those people who are adamantly opposed to real immigration reform (which has nothing to do with border walls or deportations) who are espousing the ideals that go counter to what Friday is supposed to be about.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT the concept of a "real America" is one in which there are a mish-mash of people with little in common except for their belief in the ideals of a place that offers the chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..

The people who can't accept that concept are the ones who probably would be happier elsewhere.

This ought to be the day we all think in terms of joining together for a national unity, and not trying to define "unity" as everyone else needing to be just like myself.

Personally, I think it would be deadly dull if everyone else were like myself. At the very least, there'd be no one else to quarrel with.

SO THESE ARE just a few thoughts that will be running through my mind on this Friday while I sit by the pool.

Yes, the pool. Barring inclement weather, I'm planning to spend the afternoon in the swimming pool at the apartment complex where my step-mother's mother lives.

Because that's where the family is gathering for this year's take on Independence Day. All except for my brother, Christopher. He's employed by Home Depot, which is engaged in its own take on the holiday.

He has to work, making sure that those people in need of tools and other building supplies can purchase them -- along with anybody who happens to feel compelled to purchase a new barbecue grill on this day.