Saturday, August 30, 2014

A 30-year reunion only one year late

My 30-year high school class reunion is Saturday night, yet I'm not among the people eager to see how my one-time colleagues (many of whom I haven't seen since I walked across the stage and accepted my high school diploma) turned out in life.

Did they go bald? Wind up rather unsuccessful in life? Perhaps turn out to have larger pot bellies than the one I have managed to develop during the past three decades?

SOMEHOW, I THINK the results would be more depressing than anything else. Particularly because they'd relate to a stage of my life that hasn't been particularly relevant to me since the days that I moved on from Thornwood High School in suburban South Holland.

Our reunion is tonight at a restaurant/bar right on the Chicago River. Which has potential for an urban scenic view of some spectacular-ness, I suppose.

Then again, I can go to downtown Chicago anytime I want. The idea of seeing many masses of long-forgotten individuals just isn't strong enough to make me want to do it this particular Saturday night.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those people who detested my high school years. I have enough pleasant memories that on the occasions I think about that era (1979-83), I don't shudder in disgust.

EXCEPT FOR THE times I have to recall the horrid pop music and pseudo-fashions of that era. How could we have ever have listened to that dreck. Aerosmith is a lingering memory, along with forgotten bands such as REO Speedwagon, Journey and the Go-Gos.


My recollection of high school was that it was an experience that I had to go through before I could consider college -- which is where life truly became interesting.

I do have regrets over past college Homecomings I have missed. Not so for Saturday night with the high school crowd.

AND FOR ANYBODY who's going to reminisce about some long-ago high school Homecoming event, I'll have to say it was all rather pointless compared to what happens at a university setting when decades of alumni return to reminisce about their glory days at ol' State U. (or wherever they went).

Part of the reason, however, that I don't think I'm missing much is that I noticed the class reunion event has become a group affair.

It is being billed as a 30-year reunion for the classes of 1981 through 1985. Is that the only way they could get enough people to show up to make an event worth while?

That, in fact, is why the Class of '83 is having its big event 31 years after we graduated. Although I suppose that is better than the 20-year reunion that was held in 1984 at a rather tiny restaurant banquet facility that actually was about three blocks from where I happened to live at the time.

ONLY I NEVER got the invitation, and didn't find out about it until the day AFTER the event was held.

This time, I got notice in advance (they found me through Facebook). So I'm not snubbed (although I didn't feel snubbed 10 years ago).

There's also the fact that my life has sort of turned out into something I wanted. I'm writing for a living (albeit, not being as well-compensated financially as I would have hoped some 16 years ago).

Unlike a couple of our bigger-name classmates -- our star athlete died in an auto accident many years ago, and the girl whose ambition in life would have envisioned great things for her became a little too aggressive, and is now serving a prison stint.

I'M NOT GOING to be the intriguing story of the Class of '83 by any means. For all I know, my absence may not even be noted.

But I will go so far as to wish those of my former classmates who do show up at the reunion, I hope they have a wonderful time and find the experience redeeming.

And if anybody is curious, I'm the classmate who now has a head of hair gone almost fully grey (that image of me to the right is a 22-year-old press card image). So you baldies can feel a little bit better about yourselves while we all move a year closer to a half-century of existence on this planet.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Can JRW kids become a factor if Quinn achieves political victory on Nov. 4?

I'm not sure what to be more repulsed by -- the fact that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner blew off the elaborate ceremonies meant to offer praise earlier this week to the youthful ballplayers from the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs who participated in the Little League World Series?

Or that Gov. Pat Quinn is so eager to let us know he showed up at that Millennium Park rally (how many people whined when White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson hosted the event)!

I WASN'T SURPRISED to learn that Rauner chose to go on another of his rural Illinois bus tours, and was at a restaurant in Braidwood (out past Joliet) at the time when the kids of the Jackie Robinson West Little League program were getting their moment in the sun (literally).

Perhaps he thinks that making his rounds on the "Shake Up Express" tour (he was in Greenville, Carlyle, Lebanon, Waterloo, DuQuoin and Edwardsville on Friday) will get him more voter support than the urban crowd would have attracted to his campaign on Wednesday.

But then I got the e-mail message from the Quinn campaign letting me know how proud the governor was of those kids -- who admittedly are getting praise from politicos all over.

There are many suburban communities with the weakest of links to the team that are desperate to now issue proclamations honoring their efforts. Perhaps they find drafting such a resolution more interesting than the process of purchasing a new lawnmower for their Public Works department?

QUINN MANAGED TO include so many photographs of himself with the kids, while wearing a yellow t-shirt with the team's logo on it. Along with video snippets.

It came across as Quinn trying to use the Jackie Robinson West kids as an excuse to give his campaign yet another jolt to try to close the gap that various polls have shown exists for the Nov. 4 election cycle.

Now I expect political people to pander for votes. They'll use whatever they can to try to find themselves favorable attention. So we shouldn't be shocked by the actions of either Rauner or Quinn.

I just want to know that if Quinn winds up giving a victory speech on Election Night, will he acknowledge these kids -- and everybody else whom he has glommed onto -- as the reason people voted for him?


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gay marriage holdouts? Or, where can one get a reliable ride home?

Officials from Indiana and Wisconsin were in Chicago this week to try to defend their states’ refusal to accept the idea of marriages for gay couples being legitimate, only to find the Court of Appeals panel not so acceptant.


This shouldn’t come as a surprise. State after state is getting on board with the concept that there isn’t a legitimate reason to deny the perk of marriage for those gay couples so inclined, but there are also those whose attitudes are so engraved in stone they will never come around.


I DON’T DOUBT when a federal appeals judge in Chicago pointed out the change in our society’s attitude toward interracial marriage, there were those people who wanted to say that such marriages also are wrong.


That is what popped into my head when I read a Chicago Tribune report about a lawsuit filed against a taxicab company which has a driver who kicked a couple out of his cab because he objected to their kiss in his vehicle.


This particular couple of men caught a Sun Taxi Association cab at O’Hare International Airport and wanted a ride back to their apartment in the Lakeview neighborhood.


When the driver saw them kiss in the back seat, he began flashing the internal car lights on and off, and initially tried to kick them out of his vehicle alongside the Kennedy Expressway.


WHETHER IT WAS a sense of compassion, or the realization that stopping his cab alongside the Kennedy Expressway was as dangerous to himself as it was to the passengers he was abandoning, the cab driver ultimately went to the nearest exit before kicking the couple out at a supermarket parking lot.


The couple is working with Lambda Legal in their lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. They’re asking for notices about the Illinois Human Rights Act to be posted in all taxicabs in Chicago, and for the cab company to get stuck with paying the legal fees connected to this lawsuit, the Tribune reported.


Which I’m sure will infuriate the critics who side with the cab company – who would probably rather have the company pay some large settlement to the two men if they didn’t have to admit to doing anything wrong in this particular case.


Because I’m sure they’re going to want to believe that cab drivers have a right to selectively pick whom they offer transportation to – even though such an attitude is so absurd it is almost laughable.


EXCEPT FOR THOSE moments when a driver is trying to dump someone off alongside an interstate highway. That moment alone ought to be the one that kills the cab company’s chances of success in court.


It may well be because of attitudes like this that many people in need of a ride prefer to use the ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft. I literally have heard people say that such services offer cleaner, less-offensive vehicles than many taxicabs offer.


Just like I’m wondering how much Indiana’s marketing attempts to steal businesses from Illinois are going to get knocked to the ground because of the perception being created that the Hoosier state is determined to be the last in the nation – or at the very least, in the Great Lakes states region – to permit gay couples the same legal rights as other couples who choose to live their lives as one.


Of course, there’s no guarantee how the Court of Appeals will choose to rule. The kinds of hostile questions they asked to Indiana and Wisconsin officials offer hints, but no one can say how a court will rule until they do so in writing.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Balcer not standing in way of next generation of political Daleys

The political retirement of James Balcer, a long-time alderman from the 11th Ward, is so typical of the way electoral politics works in this city.

I'll take Balcer's word for it that he's not being pushed out of his post so that a member of the Daley family can be in the City Council -- which is going to be the likely end result of this come the February 2015 elections.

FOR PATRICK THOMPSON, a member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board whose grandfather was the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and whose uncle is the retired Mayor Richard M. Daley, wants to move up to a more prominent post.

Going from the board that oversees water sanitation plants to being on the City Council is a significant step up -- particularly since it would mean Thompson could bypass the usual "first step" for an aspiring political person. Which is a seat in the state Legislature.

So to avoid a political fight, incumbent Alderman Balcer is stepping aside. He's not seeking re-election. He's saying that 17 years in the council is long enough.

Particularly since Balcer has always made an issue of the fact that he served in the Marine Corps back during the Vietnam War.

SO THE FACT that he says he wants to focus his time on getting treatment for vertigo and post-traumatic stress disorder that date back to his late 1960s military service is sort of believable.

Although I suspect that if he wanted to, Balcer could have figured out a way to get treatment and remain in the City Council.

But there were other interests that wanted the post, and Balcer has always been a loyal enough soldier (politically, as well as militarily) to not want to engage in a fight.

In fact, it is the way most government officials wind up getting elected. The blatant, public political infighting that takes place between Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican opponent Bruce Rauner is rare.

MOST CANDIDATES FOR public office have the political organizations they are aligned with use their power to crush anyone who dares think of challenging them. The idea of an actual fight in the streets to sway voters to back them is the last thing they want -- particularly for those who have been around awhile like Balcer.

So Balcer can easily decide it's time to retire. No one had to come right out and tell him to get lost. Because I do think that if it had come down to a fight between the two, Thompson could have won.

The "Daley" connection still carries some pull; even if we're currently in a lull between Daleys similar to the period of the 1980s between the two Mayors Daley. Rahm Emanuel's legacy could wind up being that he kept the office warm in between the Daleys -- just like former mayors Bilandic, Byrne or Washington (be honest, that is part of Harold's legacy).

There will be those Bridgeport residents who will vote for Thompson because of his family connection. Balcer might have had his home neighborhood's respect, but the whole idea of Daleys in government does sway some voters -- no matter how irrational the concept is.

BALCER MUST REALIZE how much it would hurt his image if he had tried to come between that. Even if he had managed to win against Thompson, it would have created resentment.

Now, people can go about speculating how long it will be until Thompson tries running for mayor -- although considering he's 45, he has plenty of time to have a political life. His biggest mistake would be to try to rush the process (which is one his uncle Rich made back in 1983 when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor).

He will have to bide his time and wait for the right moment, just as how Balcer had enough sense to realize his "right" moment to retire has come and that he had little to gain from provoking a political civil war in the 11th Ward.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Will anyone serious dare challenge Emanuel for mayoral post in '15

I have seen the assorted polls that claim Mayor Rahm Emanuel is vulnerable come the February municipal elections, and could be beat by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

I don't doubt the fact that the African-American segment of Chicago's population (not quite one-third of the city's people) has its gripes. And that the officials in the Chicago Public Schools system also wouldn't mind seeing someone else in charge at City Hall.

YET I FIND it hard to believe that anybody is going to be able to dump Rahm come next year.

Perhaps it's because it just seems so incredibly impossible for anyone being willing to come forth and take on Emanuel as a political opponent.

It just seems like political people with any real ambition perceive a mayoral campaign as the equivalent of a kamikaze mission resulting in the same fate that befell those Japanese fighter pilots who may have taken several lives with their crashes into the hulls of ships when they also blew themselves up.

Somehow, I don't think anyone will build shrines to the memory of a political challenger the way Japan has memorials to the pilots who literally gave up their lives for their country.

I REALLY BELIEVE the viewpoint of one political opponent I saw on television a few weeks ago who said he was convinced Lewis herself desperately wanted Anybody but Rahm to be mayor.

But does she really have it in herself to run for the office? I'm not sure.

As far as the other people who have talked about running for office, I believe Robert Shaw will be on the ballot and give a worse political performance than did Carol Moseley Braun when she was the African-American candidate in the 2011 mayoral campaign.

And what about Robert Fioretti, the second ward alderman who has hinted he will run and is making a point of appearing all over the city (just last week, he was in the Pullman neighborhood, familiarizing himself with the talk of turning the remains of the one-time rail car factory into a national park)?

I'M NOT CONVINCED he's well-enough known to gain much more than a 1 percent voter tally come Election Day. Although considering that the redistricting process has taken away his ward and made him a lame-duck alderman, I don't doubt he will run.

He'll get a few months of public attention for saying nasty things about the incumbent mayor -- even though it won't translate into votes.

But I do wonder if Fioretti and Shaw could wind up taking just enough votes that they could take from the concept of a Lewis campaign -- if she decides to seek electoral office.

Perhaps I'd think more of her campaign if she had solid labor support.

BUT IT APPEARS she has the backing of teachers' unions, while the unions that represent construction workers and other trades (according to the Chicago Tribune) are implying they will stick with Emanuel.

Heck, they are getting their work. They don't have the same objections that the teachers' unions and other educators do with the ham-handed way in which Rahm has tried to impose his will upon the city's public school system.

It's not like in the November election cycle for governor where Republican Bruce Rauner really does have organized labor united in anger against him to the point where they're willing to forgive (for now) all of the things that Gov. Pat Quinn did to them the past four years that they hated at the time.

Which may be the reason that Quinn ultimately closes the gap that early polls show with Rauner in a significant lead.

BUT BACK TO the city elections, where various polls showing Emanuel in trouble generally ask people about head-to-head candidate matchups. When it's not likely this will be a two-candidate campaign.

Someone will be bound to come forth to challenge Emanuel because they have nothing better to do with themselves for the next few months. Whether it will be anyone who can seriously stir the spirit of the electorate is questionable.

I don't know if Karen Lewis will be amongst them. Will ego get the best of her? We'll have to see.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

EXTRA: JRW -4/Seoul - 8


Not only did the U.S.-representing team from the Roseland neighborhood-based Jackie Robinson West baseball league manage to blow a ballgame to the international champion team from Seoul, South Korea, they did so big time.

KEEPING THE GAME close enough to dream of a comeback until the end, when the South Korea team managed to score five more runs in the final two innings -- turning an early 3-1 deficit for Chicago into an 8-4 loss.

Still, those kids managed to give Chicago a sporting ride that likely will be the highlight of 2014.

And it was encouraging to hear the team's coach, Darold Butler, remind the kids prior to their final at-bats that they had already managed to accomplish much of significance by being the lone U.S. team to survive to the championship game.

"Look at those other teams, they're not here right now," Butler told his pre-teen players. But that end-of-game Korean surge was just too much of a deficit for a sixth-inning rally of 3 runs to overcome.

SO WHERE DO we go from here? Those kids get to come back to Chicago, just in time to resume the upcoming school year. They get to resume their daily lives.

Although we can hope that they all gained enough of a taste of excellence that it can motivate them through the rest of their lives -- even if this turns out to be the highlight of their athletic careers.

So even though we're not getting a real "World" championship team this year, it has still been an interesting week watching the Little League World Series tourney. It will create a lasting memory, which will be necessary because it may be another three decades or so before a Chicago-based youth ball club makes it back to Williamsport, Pa.

Now we can go back to wondering if the Latin pairing of Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu will lead the Chicago White Sox to a World Series someday in the near future? Or if the Cubs' grounds crew will ever learn to lay down a tarp in a timely fashion?


EDITOR'S NOTE: Was I the only one who saw the purple colors worn by the South Korea team and the gold and blue of Chicago and thought it kind of looked like Northwestern vs. Michigan?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

EXTRA: Jackie Robinson baseball now far bigger than Defender sports pages

It was earlier this past week that I happened to be in the Pullman neighborhood when 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale got a crowd of 400-plus people all excited by merely uttering three initials.


AS IN THE Jackie Robinson West baseball league that consists of a couple dozen teams from predominantly-black neighborhoods such as Roseland, Pullman and Morgan Park on the far Sout’ Side (and a few surrounding suburbs that have developed sizable African-American communities).

It’s a league that usually only gets public attention from the Chicago Defender, which often uses pictures of young African-Americans in action on their sports pages.

But now, that league is something far much bigger. They’ve been partaking in the Little League World Series tournament this past week, and became the best youth team in the United States when they defeated a Las Vegas, Nev.-area team Saturday by 7-5.

Which was particularly pleasurable because the one negative for the Jackie Robinson West all-star ball club during the past week was a 13-2 loss to that same Las Vegas team.

IT WAS PAYBACK of the finest kind for those of us with a Chicago interest and enjoy seeing one of our youth teams show it can compete with the best of the rest of the nation.

And considering how in recent years baseball has become so overwhelmingly pale in complexion while lacking in much interest amongst more urban communities, the sight of an all-black ball club takes on a certain other significance.

Particularly since they’re now going to represent this country when they take on the winner of the Japan/South Korea game played Saturday night.

I can’t think of a better ball club to represent what this country is about than the kids from the South Side. Particularly since way too many people tend to think the only things of significance in Chicago come from select neighborhoods on the north lakefront.

IT’S THE ENTIRETY of Chicago that makes it amongst the most interesting places in this country (and quite possibly on Planet Earth) to be. A small piece of that South Side existence is now getting national attention.

It’s a good thing that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already committed city officials to having some sort of city-wide celebration when the team returns to Chicago in coming days.

Memories of that 2005 post-World Series parade the White Sox made through Bridgeport and Chinatown on their way to downtown come to mind. Although is a Grant Park-type rally also possible.

Let’s only hope that these kids go on to be inspired to achieve greater success in life (and not necessarily just in the world of athletics). Because the sad thing would be if this moment at age 12 became the highlight of their lives.

IT OUGHT TO be a moment that inspires all people to want to strive for greater things and higher levels than we already have achieved. That could be the real-life lesson we all learn.

So as we relish this moment of a Chicago-area ball club (even one of 12- and 13-year-olds) actually winning something (as opposed to seeing the White Sox blow a couple of ballgames to the New York Yankees in recent days or watching the Cubs’ ground crew show its ineptitude at laying down a tarp to avoid a rainy day), keep this thought in mind.

The next time Beale rattles off “J-R-W,” it won’t be just a room full of Pullman people cheering.

It ought to be the nearly 9-million of the metropolitan area  expressing its joy.


Putting a limit on term limit talk

By now, anybody who cares knows that we're not going to have a chance to express our view on the concept of term limits for state government officials on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general elections.

Both the circuit and appellate courts had rejected the idea, and the Illinois Supreme Court on Friday decided not to even hear the concept. Which resulted in the Illinois State Board of Elections signing off on the final ballots for the upcoming Election Day.

THERE WON'T BE any referendum question about whether state officials should be limited to two terms in office. There will be enough other referendum questions to occupy voters' attention.

Yet I can't help but be a bit appalled at the attitude of Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, whose finances have been behind much of the effort to bring the issue up.

He wants to stir up the resentment of those voters who have been unable to overturn Democratic Party candidates at the ballot box, so now they want to make them ineligible to run again in future elections.

Any sense that this term limits measure is a "good government" issue is a batch of nonsense. It is meant to encourage more people of a certain ideological bent to show up at the polling place.

I SUSPECT THAT the people who are now screeching and screaming for term limits would eagerly call for their abolishment the moment they got political officials of their ideological preference into office.

It isn't sincere. It has nothing to do with reform or good, honest government.

So when Rauner on Friday issued a statement denouncing the state Supreme Court and saying he expects the voters to back his idea by voting for his allies in November, I'd say it is the only time he has been honest about this issue.

He wants to use this idea in ways that get him more electoral support. Perhaps he would have found a way to let this issue slip by the wayside once the election is over -- if he is able to win.

"A PRO-TERM LIMITS General Assembly pushed by a pro-term limits governor can put this critical reform in place any day they want," Rauner said. "Illinoisans should have that in mind when they vote this November."

Except that political people of all ideological persuasions are going to have their self-interests in mind. No one is going to come forth and implement this idea voluntarily. And yes, the Supreme Court previously had ruled that term limits changes the rules for electing legislators so significantly (by limiting whom we can pick) that it goes too far and violates the state's constitution.

Rauner may be right on one point. This may influence my vote, although in a way he won't like.

All his cheap talk and posturing on this issue is such a turn-off that I may wind up making a point of voting against him just because of this.

IT IS THE reason why I have written several commentaries this spring and summer as to why this term limits measure is a bad idea that probably sound like they're written by the most intense of 'machine' hacks.

I'll also admit to being semi-impressed by the fact that Gov. Pat Quinn -- who once himself backed an effort to impose term limits -- has said this would be his last term in office IF he wins on Nov. 4.

It would mean about nine years in office -- two terms of his own and the part of Rod Blagojevich's term that he completed. By any stretch of the imagination, that is enough time for most officials to complete what they intend to do.

Now if Quinn experiences a change of heart some time in late 2017 and decides to run for yet another term, then perhaps we can hold it against him then. Until then, ...


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making sure ‘fans’ won’t defect

We’re a couple of weeks away from Labor Day, which is the symbolic beginning point of the hard-core campaign activity for candidates in the upcoming Nov. 4 election cycle.

That is when many people will start giving serious thought as to whom they will actually cast ballots for. Those many undecideds will wind up deciding whether they will actually bother to vote, and for whom.

WHICH IS WHY the two major candidates for Illinois governor are using the time right about now to make sure there aren’t any surprises amongst the people they’re counting on to be already locked up amongst their supporters.

It is why Gov. Pat Quinn was at the South Side’s Quinn Chapel AME Church in a meeting with many African-American public officials and activist types. Republican challenger Bruce Rauner has thrown some money around to certain black pastor types in hopes of depressing the share of the African-American electorate that will back Democrat Quinn.

Quinn wants to make sure he has the Democratic Party leaders in the African-American community on his side so they will go out and encourage the voter base to actually get off their duffs and cast ballots on Election Day.

In short, Quinn wants to ensure that what Rauner will be remembered for is all the money (much of it from his own personal wealth) he is spending in a losing political effort.

ALTHOUGH CONSIDERING HOW the Rauner personal donations are into the several millions of dollars already, his campaign likely will go in the books for the most money spent per vote. We’re going to learn come November if it is possible to buy a political office in Illinois.

Quinn is reaching out these days to shore up his support amongst people who should be regarded as on his side.

Then again, so is Rauner.

Ever since his Illinois State Fair appearance, Rauner has been on board his self-named “Shake Up Express.” That’s a bus he’s riding around all over central and Southern Illinois so he can cram in up to a dozen appearances per day in small burgs all across the rural parts of the state.

I’D BE WILLING to bet that the “T & T Pizzeria” in Sullivan, Ill., isn’t usually a stop for political campaigns. But Rauner included it, and many places like it, in his 38-county tour that is meant to get him face-to-face with the many rural residents who view this election cycle as a chance to dump a Chicago-oriented governor and replace him with someone they think will focus attention on them instead.

Just how much a venture capitalist from Winnetka (with a high-rise residence in Chicago proper) really identifies with rural Illinois is questionable. But if Rauner picks up a tip or two during his rural Illinois tour, then perhaps the event is worth it.

At the very least, he’s getting to see a string of restaurants in the off-beat communities of Illinois, which means he’s not going hungry these days.

While also ensuring that a batch of people who aren’t inclined to vote for Quinn under any circumstances will bother to turn out to vote for Rauner for governor – and perhaps a string of other GOP officials for other offices to appear on the ballot.

WHICH MEANS THAT come Sept.1 (a.k.a., Labor Day, or the end-of-summer for those who resent the idea of organized labor being the subject material for a holiday), the candidates can go back to trying to sway the sympathies of those people who truly are undecided.

My guess is that many will decide to just not vote. But it also is likely that those who do make up their minds at the last minute will be the ones who decide whether we get four more years of Pat Quinn – or a Republican governor with a hostile, Democrat-led Legislature.

Then again, with the way the current Legislature often responds to Quinn’s initiatives, there may not be much of a difference.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Is a “Ferguson” incident inevitable somewhere in the greater Chicago area?

We’ve all been inundated with reports of the violent outbursts taking place in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where the police killed a young man whom they’re now claiming was a suspect in a convenience store robbery.

The outbursts have become so intense that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has sent in the state troopers and even called in the National Guard to try to restore order to the community located to the northwest of the city.

NOW I’M NOT about to engage in a 600-word diatribe about the ineptitude of the local police. Nor about whether the behavior of local residents borders on criminal itself? You can find many other pundits who will eagerly engage in such debate.

What intrigues me about this incident is the way in which it seems so likely that we’re going to get something similar occurring in the future in a community that is part of the Chicago metro area.

I’d like to think I’m wrong. I’d like to think I’m over-reacting. I’m sure the apologists for police will send me rants telling me how ridiculous I’m being.

But there are just too many circumstances about this incident that make me wonder how long it will be before we hear of something similarly stupid happening in a place like suburban Riverdale or Blue Island, or perhaps across the state line in Hammond.

I PICKED THOSE communities off the top of my head – they are places that not all that long ago had significant white populations, but have now become majority African-American in their composition.

Which makes me wondering if the long-standing, but now a minority, white populations there could take a similar attitude in support of their police if some sort of incident were to break out.

Just this weekend, I caught part of a conversation about the Ferguson incident that included one person whose cousins had once lived there. He claimed the incident was so out-of-character for the Ferguson he remembered – a peaceful community where middle-to-lower income people raised families.

But it was a place where white people lived back then – unlike the current composition where 67.4 percent of the 2010 population of 21,203 people are African American.

THAT IS WHAT provoked the anger in Ferguson to the shooting earlier this month of an 18-year-old by a police officer. It didn’t help that for the longest time, police tried keeping the officer/gunman’s identity secret – then made sure to unveil it as part of a larger statement that tried to claim the 18-year-old was a robbery suspect.

Stealing some cigarillos from a convenience store; not exactly the second coming of John Dillinger.

The matter is now under investigation, and I won’t be surprised if it turns out that police are somehow cleared of this. We should realize that the reason we permit police to carry weapons in public is because we expect there to be instances where they will use them.

And sometimes, unfortunate things happen that just don’t cross over the legal definition of what constitutes criminal behavior.

IT MAKES ME recall an incident in suburban Calumet City from a couple of years ago – one in which a boy with a form of autism was shot to death by local police. That incident, too, caused some outbursts – albeit none with the physical violence of Ferguson.

Rev. Jesse Jackson made his appearance in Calumet City to try to bring back peace and comfort. But the local officials were eager to do as little as possible.

Once an Illinois State Police investigation came back with a finding of no criminal charges against the officers, that became the end of it. Aside from the lingering resentment in the community that likes to talk of its Polish immigrant origins but is now 70.6 percent African American.

Maybe we got lucky that we didn’t get such an outburst a couple of years ago and that “Calumet City, Ill.” didn’t wind up on the map of public opinion. But how much longer can we be that lucky before something stupid happens in our state?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Davis vs. Jones could be the sporting matchup of the year for Chicago fans

It has become the matchup I’m hoping becomes reality in coming days – pitcher Mo’Ne Davis going up against slugger Pierce Jones.

He of the three home runs and a triple who led the Jackie Robinson West team from the Roseland neighborhood to a victory to kick off the Little League World Series. She of the Philadelphia-area team that also is playing in Williamsport, Pa., who pitched a complete-game shutout and only gave up a couple of hits.

BIG SLUGGER AGAINST top pitcher – a key matchup that will occur if the Little League tourney plays out in such a fashion that the Chicago and Philadelphia ball clubs wind up facing off against each other.

Much has been made of the fact that Davis is a 12-year-old girl. Although all it really proves is that girls can be athletic, and most likely many of the boys she is facing have yet to go through that teenage growth spurt that turns them into adults and will erase whatever physical advantage she now possesses.

Although as one who enjoys watching baseball and often hears of the decline in the number of African-American ballplayers in the professional ranks (largely because of the upshot in recent years of ballplayers from Latin American and Asian nations coming to the United States to play ball), I would find this story to be a bit encouraging.

For Davis is black. As is Jones, and his entire Chicago-area ball club. That’s what happens when a Little League program representing an African-American portion of Chicago winds up getting good and winning the qualifying tournaments to represent the Great Lakes states in the Little League World Series – which has eight U.S. ball clubs and eight international teams.

YES, I’M FOLLOWING the activity of the team from Nuevo Leon, a northernmost Mexican state along the U.S./Mexico border – which kicked off its play by beating Canada 4-3, then losing Sunday 9-5 against a team from Japan.

But the big games that caught attention early on were that 12-2 victory by the Sout’ Side club against a team from Lynnwood, Wash. (I'm going out of my way to erase Sunday's 13-2 defeat from my memory); along with Davis’ shutout against a team from South Nashville, Tenn.

It was unique to see black ballplayers being such a dominant presence on the ball field. Not that I mean that in any bad way.

The degree to which some people with racial hang-ups were probably getting annoyed at the sight (or thought) of such activity was pleasing to me.

IT WAS ENCOURAGING to see some of the nonsense-talk that some people spew get rejected while watching these particular kids excel at something that some people would want to think they’re not supposed to have any interest in.

Plus, there’s the fact that they were kids – not quite at the stage in life yet where such an experience would lead them jaded.

I don’t know if any of these kids is destined for professional athletics in any form. It may well be that these few days in Pennsylvania will be a highlight moment that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I’m also not convinced this is some seminal moment that will help shift black people back to an interest in baseball away from certain other sports. It would take several consecutive years of this – along with a certain shift in the baseball mentality itself – for that to happen.

BUT WATCHING THESE kids does create some intriguing moments on the ball field.

Particularly the thought of a Jones/Davis matchup.

Will Jones and his Jackie Robinson West teammates be the ones who can handle Davis and smack her pitches around the ballpark as easily as they did the kids from Lynnwood, Wash., last week?

Or will Mo’Ne be the one who schools Jones and company – giving them a lesson in humility that our city’s professional ball clubs give Chicago fans every time they lose another game on the field?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The “enemy” is out to get you – or so political operatives want you to think!

As a reporter-type person myself, I have often heard the argument from ideologues of all sorts how it is a good thing that the old means of disseminating information are being knocked on the ropes, so to speak.

It is now possible for people with varying ideas to get their messages out to the public (or at least that segment of the public they want to reach) without having anyone try to edit them into any sense.

ALTHOUGH I’VE COME to believe that this is just a batch of nonsense from ideological types who can’t survive in a true world of ideas – and think their only chance is to be able to outshout the opposition.

We’re in the campaign cycle, and in a few weeks will begin the most fervent activity prior to the Nov. 4 general elections.

So it’s to be expected that things are stepping up now. But part of the reason I have come to detest my smartphone is the flood of nonsense that is popping up through my e-mail accounts.

Now one of the drawbacks to publicly posting an e-mail address for this weblog is that there are some people who want me to hear what they have to say, and they feel compelled to put me on their automatic mailing lists.

HENCE, I GET many dozens of messages per day from political activists who are convinced they are going to sway me to their side.

And yes, I get the messages from all sides. Some people will beef up their mailing lists by putting anyone on.

So just this Friday afternoon, I got a message from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee telling me that if I don’t make a donation (which I can conveniently do via the Internet) to their efforts, then, “If we can’t cut the Republican advantage THIS WEEK, our chances of beating (House Speaker John) Boehner’s Republicans drop to zero.”

Along with a message from the House Majority PAC telling me of the ad buys by Republican operative Karl Rove that self-respecting Democrats just can’t let go unanswered.

“IF WE WANT a Democratic majority, we can’t afford to let Karl Rove’s latest ad blitz go unchallenged,” they write. Heck, earlier this week I got an e-mail message apologizing for the number of e-mails sent in the names of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi -- then asking me for yet another donation.

All of which comes across as a little bit whiny – poor little Dems who are getting bullied politically by the big bucks of wealthy individuals of a conservative ideological leaning who want a Republican-run government to bolster their interests.

But whining isn’t limited to anyone of a particular ideology. In addition to those messages, I got one from Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation that “liberals know how to reach the American people” and how they need my money to help them fight back to ensure that the conservative-leaning interests prevail.

As DeMint told us in his mass-produced e-mail, “Why is it that liberals continue to win victories despite decades of big government,” adding later, “We conservatives need an answer, and fast.”

FOR THE RECORD, I’m not sending money to any of these people. In fact, once I finish writing these commentaries, I’m deleting them from my log. Because as far as I’m concerned, they all amount to people whining and claiming “victim” status to get my money.

These people want me to vote against someone else, rather than telling me why I should vote for them. Which may well be the biggest flaw of the electoral process as it exists today!

Although I have to admit I find it laughable to read DeMint’s claim that liberals know how to reach the people. If they truly did, then there wouldn’t be so much circumstantial evidence indicating the GOP’s interests may wind up prevailing on Nov. 4.

Although it does have an element of truth as well. Because it seems the election cycles of recent years where there is respectable voter turnout are the ones where Democratic Party interests prevail.

THE ONES WHERE the people become apathetic about the electoral process are the ones that turn into “big years’ for the Party of Lincoln that often acts as though it is ashamed to have his name associated with them.

“Apathy” and “shame” most definitely are a pair of words I would use to describe the political mood I see amongst the public these days.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Pol cheap shots a sign of a mini-mind?

I’m not about to get all worked up over Republican lieutenant governor nominee Evelyn Sanguinetti for her apparent cheap-shot against the rural part of Illinois – and her efforts this week to make it appear she didn’t mean anything by it.

For one thing, it would be hypocritical.

I KNOW FOR a fact that I have made my share of snide comments implying that the rest of Illinois (the land that lies beyond the outermost suburbs of Chicago) is somehow lacking in civilization.

Which is nothing compared to the cheap-shots that often emanate from rural residents when referring to the Chicago portion of Illinois – which has become so dominant in recent years that it is the real reason someone like Bruce Rauner will take the overwhelming share of the non-Chicago vote come the Nov. 4 election for governor.

Borderline-lame pot shots at each other may at times be the glue that holds the regions of Illinois together – because it compels us to remember that we are one state, and not a batch of regions that wish they could be a part of surrounding states.

Sanguinetti apparently made a pot-shot in the past while inquiring about the possibility of a government job. The Lee Enterprises newspaper chain reported recently about an e-mail message she sent on the issue, trying to end it with a laugh by writing, “Isn’t cow tipping a work requirement in Springfield (LOL).”

IT’S A DUMB gag, although the part that offends me the most is that “(LOL)” she felt compelled to add to the end.

As though she thought she had to tell people they were supposed to laugh. If the gag had truly been humorous, their laughter would have been spontaneous, and apparent.

Then again, maybe I’m just that old grouch who dislikes the idea of “LOL” being put into any e-mail. Just like I don’t like those people who put smiley faces and other gimmicky symbols (such as “;)”) into an e-mail.

Sanguinetti took the appearance that she was insulting rural Illinois (she’s a suburban DuPage County-type person, a Wheaton village trustee to be exact) seriously enough that she felt compelled to say nice things about the Illinois capital city when she was on hand for the fair-type events.

WHICH MADE HER look rather trivial overall. No wonder that recent poll showed that when people were asked what they thought of the lieutenant governor candidates, they far preferred Democrat Paul Vallas to Sanguinetti.

Maybe Gov. Pat Quinn owes any November victory to Vallas. Or more likely, few people bother to give the lieutenant governor nominees much thought when they go into the voting booth to pick a preference for governor.

Although the part of all this that bothers me the most is the fact that Quinn felt so compelled to pick up on this issue – rather than just let Sanguinetti twist in the wind with her own trivial nonsense.

The Chicago Sun-Times on Friday reported that Quinn said, “I think she should apologize for those disrespectful remarks. This isn’t the right way to talk about any cow in Illinois. We’re proud of our cows. They’re the best that ever was. She ought to say she’s sorry to a bunch of cows.”

WHY DO I suspect the spirit of Robin Williams was lingering nearby, and shuddering at Quinn’s attempt to engage in such lame humor?

It also reminds me of the 1960s anti-war activists who once satirically nominated “Pigasus” for president (“If we can’t have him in the White House, we can have him for breakfast,” the Yippies said) to show their contempt for the establishment candidates.

Does this mean we can nominate a cow for governor – on the grounds that he’d have more sense (and may even smell better) than either Rauner or Quinn?


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sout’ Side (but not the White Sox) make it to a ‘World Series’ of sorts

Baseball fans oriented to the South Side have something to cheer about this season – and not just the fact that Cuban sensation Jose Abreu is in the running to lead the American League in both home runs and runs batted in.

It’s not enough to pull the Chicago White Sox into contention for a division title.

BUT THERE WILL be talk of “World Series” bandied about on Thursday, and hopefully in coming days.

For we’re at that tournament in which youth league teams from around the world converge in Williamsport, Pa. – the annual home of the Little League World Series.

There are some “international” ball clubs present, but most are from the United States. And this year, the team representing the Great Lakes Region is from right here in Chicago – the predominantly-African-American Roseland neighborhood to be exact.

For the Jackie Robinson West Little League champion team this year advanced through the rounds of qualifying games to beat an Indiana team to make the trip to Williamsport.

ON THURSDAY, THEY will play their first game in the World Series against a team from Lynnwood, Wash. ESPN will carry the game live at 2 p.m.\

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked of having a viewing party so Chicagoans can watch the game, while Gov. Pat Quinn declared a “day” across Illinois for this year’s Jackie Robinson championship team.

That’s pretty heady stuff, particularly since the Jackie Robinson League baseball program is usually something only the Chicago Defender newspaper bothers to pay any attention to – and even then only to get a picture of a kid looking cute while trying to do something athletic.

So chances are most of us Chicago baseball fans had no clue what was happening in Roseland that a baseball team good enough to make it to the international tournament was in our midst.

REMEMBER THE CONTROVERSY from a year ago when the baseball program at Walter Payton College Prep tried cancelling out a game against Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep out of fear of the neighborhood?

That was Roseland as well, and in fact the Brooks high school uses Jackie Robinson League facilities for its program.

It will be intriguing to see a group of inner-city kids taking on the more heavily-experienced (when it comes to travel) teams that usually wind up playing in these youth tournaments.

And if some baseball fans get a jolt to see that black kids don’t just dunk basketballs, that may be a plus as well.

NOW I’M NOT about to predict a Chicago victory in the Little League World Series. The Jackie Robinson West champions (Jackie Robinson East baseball is played out in Newark and Jersey City, N.J.) may well be among the first teams knocked out this year.

Although let’s be honest.

If they were to accomplish something, it would be the sporting highlight of the year for Chicago – particularly since neither professional baseball club is going to win anything of significance this season.

So go Jackie Robinson West. Beat Lynnwood. And do the city proud as you work your way through the ranks of the top youth league baseball players the world has to offer. Show them you belong!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How deep can Chicago roots be?

It always amuses me to learn of someone of prominence who can place the name “Chicago, Ill.” on a form as their place of birth, even though their career would never give us any indication they had any connection with the Second City.

There’s Walt Disney (whose animated creations continue to generate royalties even though he is long gone from this realm of existence) and Raquel Welch (compared to her, girls such as Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry are just a couple of foolish tarts), to name a couple.

AND NOW WE can add Robin Williams to the list.

The 63-year-old comedian and actor allegedly was coping with depression, and there are those who suspect his ills may have caused him this week to take an action that cost him his life. Autopsies will soon give us the gory details – for those of us who care.

But I’m not sure it matters much about the man born in 1951 at then-Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital and raised until he was 8 in suburban Lake Bluff and Lake Forest.

His life’s work is going to live on so long as copies of his films don’t deteriorate into dust, and so long as the ME-TV thinks it is worthy for them to include “Mork and Mindy” among the ranks of long-cancelled programs they continue to air.

CONSIDERING THAT WE can still watch “Bosom Buddies” (Tom Hanks in drag) and “Welcome Back, Kotter” (which really did deteriorate when John Travolta left the show for bigger and better things), it ought to be a safe bet that they can find a place for early Robin Williams whose absurd behavior was just supposedly the way a being from space behaved when surrounded by mere Earthlings.

I’m old enough to remember when that was a prime-time program, and when we got our introduction to Williams as a guy who could make us laugh with the ramblings off the top of his head. So much of that show and Williams’ bits were unscripted.

But unlike people such as Ron Palillo, whose own obituaries a couple of years ago highlighted a career that went nowhere once his “Kotter” role as “Arnold Horshack” came to an end, Williams went on to bigger things in film.

He even got an Academy Award “best supporting actor” for his role in “Good Will Hunting,” where he served as a street-smart counselor of sorts to actor Matt Damon’s namesake lead character.

ALTHOUGH I’M INCLINED to remember him most for that role he had as a private school teacher in “Dead Poets’ Society.” Even if, in the end, “the captain” was forced to resign his job for having placed all kinds of deep thoughts into the heads of his students.

Even his moment as a gay Miami Beach nightclub owner in “Birdcage” sticks in my mind (largely because I saw it on late-night television recently, but also because it is darned near impossible to forget the site of actor Gene Hackman in a hideous drag queen disguise).

Williams’ Chicago connections may have come to an end when the family moved while he was still a child – first to Michigan, then to San Francisco where he graduated high school and began the path that led to him being a memorable professional entertainer.

But you just know there are those among us who are going to want to claim him for one of our own – as though somehow something was inseminated into his essence as a child that made him so funny as an adult.

FOR THOSE OF us trying to make sense out of the loss of Williams, perhaps we can think to ourselves that “Mork” has merely gone back to “Ork.”

As we read this, he’s giving a detailed account of his decades of life on Earth with Mindy – while also offending his boss, Orson, with a series of one-liners about his girth.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rauner’s trying to buy the office; It only makes sense to buy allies too!

Much is being made of the many millions of dollars being spent by Bruce Rauner toward his own campaign for governor (some $9.6 million, with more likely to come in the next three months).

Yet I couldn’t help but notice the latest study from the Better Government Association, which focused on the amount of money Rauner is donating to other Republican candidates.

AFTER ALL, WHAT good does it do him to be governor if it turns out he has a hostile General Assembly and other high-ranking statewide government officials.

Rauner could easily find himself outnumbered by Democrats within state government. Unless you think that he and Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka can be a new GOP dynamic duo and take on the mass of state government all by themselves!

Hence, he’s kicking in significant amounts of money to Republican organizations across the state. Which probably makes more sense than backing individual candidates.

Those organizations are the groups that know the local lay of the land and are capable of getting local GOP candidates in higher office, where they would become allies to a “Gov. Rauner,” should we wind up with that concept come next January.

THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES published a new Better Government Association study that reviewed the Illinois State Board of Elections records of Rauner’s campaign contributions.

This year alone, he has donated 119 contributions to 75 groups across the state.

Since 2012, he and his wife have donated about $1.5 million – compared to the period from 1998 to 2011 when the couple’s campaign contributions totaled only about $1.1 million.

Interestingly enough, some of that money wound up boosting the various re-election bids of now-former Mayor Richard M. Daley and also to Forrest Claypool – remember his bids to dump Joe Berrios as county assessor?

HE’S GIVING MONEY to the various rural county organizations, along with various suburban township groups. Even the Chicago Young Republicans got a bit of cash – according to the study.

Although the one that amazes me is a series of contributions coming from the “Citizens for Rauner” organization that is giving money to the Illinois Republican Party proper.

That organization has become so weak and ineffectual in recent years that somebody has to do something, unless the one-time “Party of Lincoln” is willing to abandon “Honest Abe’s” home state for good.

It seems Rauner’s campaign fund gave the state party some $750,000 each during both August and July, along with $525,000 during June.

TWO MILLION BUCKS during the summertime leading up to the serious campaign activity that usually kicks off with the coming of Labor Day.

Not that Rauner’s and Quinn’s efforts thus far haven’t been serious. It’s just that so many people don’t really pay any attention until next month – which is why it is possible to legitimately question all those polls showing Rauner administering a serious butt-whuppin’ to Quinn.

They also contain so many undecideds that we really don’t know what is going to result come the evening of Nov. 4.

Although I couldn’t help but notice the latest fund-raising pitch I received – an e-mail message Monday from the Quinn campaign’s manager.

IT TELLS US how Democratic campaign intelligence, so to speak, has learned of incidents where Rauner thought he was privately telling Republican partisans that he’s prepared to push for government shut-downs if he winds up having to govern as a Republican with a whole lot of Democratic Party colleagues.

Reformer my butt!!! That kind of talk is nothing more than trying to return to the past of Newt Gingrich (remember when they were amazed they got blamed rather than Bill Clinton because of a shutdown?). Or as Quinn people remind us, of the nonsense we saw in Wisconsin a few years back when Gov. Scott Walker decided to get all hostile with organized labor – regardless of the problems his actions caused for people.

Of course, the Quinn people want us to kick in our own campaign cash to back him, “… to make sure Rauner doesn’t get the chance to make good on his threats.”

Which is why Rauner would like to have a few more friends in politically prominent places. That might be the ultimate reason to think about voting against him come Election Day.