Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Were Cubs minor leaguers better than Louisiana pol at IDing racial tension?

One of the stories making national news these days involves Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who some 12 years ago when he was a mere state legislator gave a speech to a conference of people interested in organizing themselves for political purposes.

At least that’s the way Scalise, who is about to become the majority whip in the House of Representatives, tries to tell the story. He didn’t know that the group – European-American Unity and Rights Organization – was affiliated with one-time Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist politician David Duke.

DUKE, OF COURSE, downplays the racial hang-ups his group’s members have, claiming they’re merely using their right to express their views and organize themselves for future electoral power.

But what caught my attention in the reports coming from the Washington Post and New Orleans Times-Picayune, which appear to be inspired by a report in the New Orleans alternative weekly paper The Gambit, was the fact that a baseball club took the situation seriously enough to back off of the conference.

That ball club was the Iowa Cubs, the Des Moines-based outfit that is the Chicago Cubs top minor league affiliate.

It seems the Iowa Cubs were in New Orleans the same weekend as the conference in 2002 to play a series against the New Orleans Zephyrs, and in fact were supposed to stay in the same hotel where the event was held.

THE IOWA CUBS at the time had six African-Americans among their 30 ballplayers and coaches who travel with the team, and Cubs management thought there was enough potential for an incident that they didn’t want their team subjected to being in contact with so many EURO (that’s what they call themselves) members.

“We would just as soon stay away from a group that will create controversy,” team general manager Sam Bernabe said to The Gambit back then. The Zephyrs, who according to Pacific Coast League rules cover the costs of teams traveling to New Orleans to play their team, found another hotel.

There wound up being no confrontation between racially-motivated ideologues and future Cubs ballplayers.

But what does it say that a minor league baseball team knew more about the group that Scalise was to speak to, than Scalise did himself?

FOR THE EXPLANATION that Scalise has given in recent days to the Post and Picayune news reports is that he was poorly staffed at that point in his service in the Louisiana Legislature and didn’t know what the EURO group was about,

He says now he never would have spoken to the group if he had comprehended what they stood for or that Duke (who served one term in that state Legislature and has tried unsuccessfully running for governor and president) was connected to them.

But the Washington Post reported that Scalise was invited to the conference by long-time associates of Duke, and quoted people who say that Scalise should have realized there was a connection – unless he’s truly clueless about the Louisiana political scene.

Although I also realize that the reason all of this is coming out now is because there are those people who want to have the new Republican-run Congress (both chambers) tainted with all kinds of unseemly allegations.

BURY THEM IN muck, and maybe some of it will stick and bolster the political opposition’s chances of making the GOP domination of Congress a mere two-year run. I’m not ignoring the self-serving reasons for this tawdry story coming out now.

But still, it appears that the Iowa Cubs management was more capable than Scalise of identifying a potentially ugly situation and avoiding it. Which makes me wonder how much the people of Louisiana are suffering from his apparent lack of a political IQ?

Perhaps Iowa Cubs management should be in charge of coping with racial tensions, instead of training future ballplayers? Since based on the performance of the major league Cubs in recent years, they haven’t exactly succeeded at the latter!

Although I suspect Scalise would be just as inept as Cubs management at running a ball club.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

EXTRA: Weren’t ’14 Chicago Bears merely typical of local sports scene?

It was everybody’s good laugh this week. Virginia McCaskey, the matriarch of the Chicago Bears (and daughter of team founder George Halas) is “pissed off” (or so says team management) at the Bears’ performance this season – which came to an end Sunday with a 5-11 record and no playoff performance.

Now I’m not any kind of a football fan (I’m eagerly counting down the 90-plus days to the beginning of baseball season, plus the month until the Caribbean Series). But it just doesn’t seem like this season’s awfulness was particularly awful.

PERHAPS IT’S BECAUSE I’m old enough to remember the years of the 1970s following players such as Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers – seasons in which playoff appearances were rare, that 2014 doesn’t strike me as being unusual. In fact, that decade was just truly awful for all the Chicago ball clubs, regardless of what sport they played.

Watching a youthful Walter Payton become the football equivalent of Ernie Banks and Luke Appling (Hall of Fame baseball players who were surrounded by losing Chicago squads back in the 1950s and 1930s, respectively) was what the Bears were usually about.

Let’s be honest. Michael Jordan was the basketball equivalent in the 1980s. Does anyone remember how bad the Bulls were prior to those two streaks of three 1990s championships in a row?

So to learn that McCaskey is displeased with the Bears? You’d think she’d be used to it by now. Because 1985 and that Super Bowl victory over New England was truly a team oxymoron.

I FIND IT interesting that one-time Bears quarterback and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh finds the prospect of coaching Michigan in the Big 10 to be more intriguing than being with the Bears.

Take into account her other statement from Monday when the firings of the Bears general manager and coach were announced – that she had been alive for eight of the nine NFL championships won by the Bears during their 95 years of existence (including the season they were based in Decatur, Ill.).

But eight of those championships came prior to the creation of the Super Bowl – which itself will be 49 years old. Making them seem about as relevant as the fact that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series back in ’07 and ’08. And I don’t mean 20--!

So what should we make of McCaskey’s feelings? Perhaps she will succeed in finding competent team management that can bring another championship team to Soldier Field in the near future. At the very least, she gave us a chuckle.

ALTHOUGH I THINK the real outburst will come down from the heavens in the form of Halas’ spirit. He, of course, who once said, “We’ve run out of time outs. Go in there and get hurt.”

Somehow, I feel Bears fans would be in complete agreement these days.


Will Election ’16 give us the “Battle of the War Stories” for U.S. Senate?

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., wants another term in the U.S. Senate. Whether he’s vulnerable to electoral defeat remains to be seen.

Yes, I’ll admit it is scary to be discussing this campaign now – considering there’s a year-and-10-months remaining until the November 2016 elections that will decide whether Republicans can keep the U.S. Senate seat that has flopped back and forth between the major political parties in recent years.

FROM CAROL MOSELEY Braun to Peter Fitzgerald to Barack Obama (with a combination of Roland Burris and Kirk completing the Obama term when he became president); is this seat bound to flop back to Dems?

The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based newspaper that focuses on Congress, wants to believe so.

They put together a list of 10 senators they believe are most vulnerable to being defeated in the 2016 elections. Kirk is Numero Uno on that list.

Kirk, even when he was in the House of Representatives representing the North Shore suburbs, was not amongst the hard-core conservative ideologues, and that is a fact that has those people less-than-enthused about six more years for the suburban Highland Park resident in Washington.

ALTHOUGH ANYBODY WHO thinks that will result in Kirk making up for lost ideologue votes by getting support from some Democrats who can back his stances on environmental issues and gay marriage ought to think back to 2002.

That was when incumbent Gov. George Ryan had supposedly taken a series of stances on social issues that offended his alleged Republican ideologue allies.

But Democrats were so eager to elect “one of their own” that there was no talk of crossover political support. Which is how we got the concept of six years of Rod Blagojevich as governor!

I can easily see the Democratic party people, including the party hacks, all eager to show that any Republican electoral success back in November was a mere fluke, and that the presence of Bruce Rauner ought not to be regarded as any kind of trend in Illinois.

I DID NOTE that The Hill tapped four potential challengers to Kirk; including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and representatives Tammy Duckworth, Cheri Bustos and Bill Foster.

I was thankful that they didn’t include the name “Pat Quinn” in their list – as some people are trying to believe that Quinn is concocting schemes to get himself elected to another political post following his gubernatorial defeat.

Particularly at his age (early 60s), Quinn has likely lost any momentum he ever had to win a statewide election. He’s back to the guy of the 1990s who ran unsuccessfully for Illinois secretary of state, lieutenant governor and the U.S. Senate – and whose electoral bids were treated as an excuse for laughter.

But I’m not writing off Kirk at this point – particularly because it’s so early in the electoral process that I feel appalled at myself for even contemplating this issue now. So much can change between now and November of 2016 that nobody’s going to remember that Kirk was ever considered vulnerable.

ALTHOUGH I HAVEN’T forgotten the fact that Kirk didn’t take a majority of the vote (only 48 percent) when he won in 2010. It was only the presence of Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ballot that kept Democratic challenger Alexi Giannoulias (remember him?) from prevailing.

Of the challengers, I find the idea of Duckworth to be the most intriguing. The woman has a significant record of military service that certainly would match up with the record Kirk claims (he served in the Naval Reserve for many years, and it was only the stroke he suffered in 2012 that ultimately caused him to retire his rank of Commander a year later).

Could it become the “War story” campaign of 2016 – with the two trying to show who was the bigger “war hero?” Which could make for some of the most outrageous rhetoric of Election ’16!


Monday, December 29, 2014

What people will post on Facebook, and the consequences of being blunt

The kind of trivia and nonsense people feel compelled to post on Facebook never fails to amaze me.

Personally, I only use it as a way to further distribute this weblog – making it possible for those people who are my Facebook “friends” to see this commentary without having to go searching for it (not that it’s hard to find).

AS I LOOK while writing this commentary, I see posts from a cousin informing the world she’s at a medical clinic waiting in line, pictures of people showing us all how their kids cried in Santa Claus’ lap and one individual asking if he should spend the afternoon watching “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards” on television.

Then, there seem to be people like Aries Woodfin, who had to appear in court this weekend for a bond hearing following his arrest in suburban Ford Heights.

Prosecutors contend that Woodfin used Facebook to post ominous threats about law enforcement, and also said his contempt for police might cause him to commit acts of violence against “innocent white children.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, someone who saw the Facebook page contacted police in Alabama, who then contacted the Chicago Police Department – which conducted an investigation and found that the man lived in both the city and the south suburb.

WHEN POLICE SHOWED up at the suburban house Friday night, they found that he had set up a crude gun range for himself in the basement. They also found a .45 caliber pistol and spent shell casings all over the basement floor.

Which would appear to make it seem that Woodfin likes to practice with a pistol. But because he has a prior criminal conviction (for weapons-related offenses), he can’t get the Firearm Owners Identification card that would have made his possession of a weapon legal.

It is why he now is residing at the Cook County Jail, where a judge this weekend ordered that he be held without bond while charges of illegal firearms possession, assault, failure to have an FOID card and disorderly conduct.

Although it’s likely none of this would have come forth if the guy hadn’t felt compelled to use Facebook to be so open about his contempt for law enforcement.

YES, WOODFIN IS an African-American man who, according to the Sun-Times, told police he was a “warrior” and that the “streets would run red with blood” due to his upcoming actions.

We don’t really know if he had anything planned in the way of a violence spree. He might have been “all talk.”

But police are now crediting this as an example of how monitoring activity on Facebook can help prevent crime from occurring at all.

He’ll probably wind up with a lengthy prison term because of his rants, although I wonder if his legal defense will be something along the lines of “I didn’t really mean it.”

THIS IS LIKELY to be the norm for the near future, at least. On account of the slayings of two New York police officers who were sitting in their squad car in Brooklyn when a black man walked up and shot them both dead.

That man later shot himself – so we’re not going to get any lengthy legal proceedings or trial to assuage the desire of “law and order” types to have someone suffer for their “crime.”

Will Woodfin, who didn’t actually kill anyone, wind up having to stand in for those people who are eager to see a “cop killer” be prosecuted?

All because his real crime is being a nitwit who felt compelled to share his moronic rants publicly on Facebook.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

REVIEWING THE WEEK: Handling ourselves respectably in cop attack

Around about the time many of us were clearing the table and doing the dishes following the Christmas Day holiday meal, the Chicago police used deadly force on a man.

The incident occurred Thursday night in the Woodlawn neighborhood when police responded to a call of a man who was threatening to kill himself.

IT WOULD APPEAR the man was less than mentally stable, because the presence of police aggravated the situation to the point where the man took his knife and lunged at police.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that one officer had his body armor struck twice by the knife. And for the record, the answer is “no,” bullet-proof vests can't protect you from the blade of a knife.

Which is what caused police to fire shots at the man, who died late Thursday at Stroger Hospital. The police officer who was attacked was in “good” condition at a different hospital. The Chicago Tribune reported that police have recovered the knife in question.

Assuming that no as-of-yet unknown facts come forward and that we know the “whole truth,” this is not likely to turn into an incident. Regardless of his mental state, lunging at an officer with a device that can be a weapon gives the officers the legal justification for use of force.

BUT WITH THE number of incidents occurring nationally, we’re sort of on a heightened sense of alert about such things. Just about any incident involving a police officer has potential to rise to an unpleasant and embarrassing level. There are bound to be some people who will want to believe the worst.

Which is why it was wise for the Chicago police chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police this week to advise local officers to be careful in the way they handle potential situations to avoid escalating them to violence.

Although hearing those same officials complain that they’re the ones being singled out for abuse was a little sickening. It seems some people don’t comprehend the fact that not everyone feels relief when they see the police coming down their neighborhood streets, and that it ought to be the police trying to build trust within the community for the real problems to be resolved.

What else of the happenings this week in Chicago is worthy of further note?

WILLIE WILSON CAN STAY: Perhaps it is evidence that Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not feel threatened any longer by the millions of dollars that Dr. Willie Wilson could potentially spend on his campaign for mayor.

For the people aligned with Emanuel who had challenged the nominating petitions for Wilson to try to get him kicked off the Feb. 24 mayoral ballot withdrew their objections.

Which means voters will be able to choose Wilson from amongst the many Emanuel challengers, if they so wish. No official explanation was given for the withdrawal, although Wilson backers claimed it was Emanuel backing off what was a racist ballot challenge.

Personally, I’m inclined to think it is the fact that 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago, have become the major challengers, and that Wilson’s millions (he took a few McDonald’s franchises on the South Side and turned them into a fortune) weren’t likely to get him more than 2 percent of the vote.

I DON’T THINK I REALLY MISSED ANYTHING: “The Interview” wound up being shown on Christmas Day at select theaters across the country, including assorted theaters in the suburbs of Chicago. Buffalo Grove, Woodridge, Naperville and Griffith, Ind. – to be exact.

Meaning anybody who wanted to see the film on its Opening Day had to make a trip. Although anyone willing to wait until the weekend can see it at Chicago theaters such as Ford City on the Southwest Side, Regal City North 14 and the AMC River East theater near downtown.

Supposedly, Thursday’s showings grossed about $1 million nationwide, and I saw some news coverage of people who said they felt they were making a patriotic statement by going to see the film.

Personally, I wonder how many of them would have bothered to see it at all if not for the North Korea controversy that has taken an otherwise ignorable film and turned it into a political cause.

UGH!!!: Leave it to the Chicago Bears whose attempt at a statement concerning their high-priced quarterback wound up turning into a bigger fiasco.

For Jay Cutler got his starting job back for the Bears’ finale Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, even though everybody still thinks he stinks and that the Bears would be better off without him.

Yet the backup quarterback whom the Bears promoted to the top spot to try to humiliate Cutler wound up suffering a concussion. “Jimmy Clausen” is now the answer to the trivia question that goes “Who replaced Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler for one game in 2014?” It probably will be the only thing Clausen is remembered for in his NFL career.

This likely to become a 5-11 season for the Bears can’t end soon enough. Only two more months until we get to see Jose Abreu hit home runs for the Chicago White Sox and we get to see whether the presence of Joe Maddon as manager makes one bit of difference for the Chicago Cubs.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Why can’t we all just get along? It seems like such a naive thought

What we really need is to figure out a way that our society can figure out how people of color can feel less threatened by the police who are supposed to be protecting all of us.

Because names such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner already are ancient history – the people who are quarrelling over whether the police are singling out black people for abuse have already moved on to fresher incidents.

EVEN THOUGH THOSE incidents are less than a month old!

For it was just last weekend that a black man, feeling a sense of disgust because of the deaths of those two men and contempt for law enforcement in general, traveled to New York and opened fire on two uniformed police officers who happened to be sitting in a squad car in the Brooklyn borough.

Then on Tuesday in Berkeley, Mo., (just about five miles from the town where Brown was killed by police officers), a teenage boy was shot to death by a local cop.

There is evidence that the boy, when confronted by police, reached for something resembling a pistol – thereby giving the officer in question the legal justification to feel threatened and respond with gunfire.

YET THAT DIDN’T stop local residents from gathering early Wednesday at the gas station where the boy’s death took place and begin protests that at times threatened to grow out of hand.

Combine this with another incident during the weekend in which a rural Florida police officer was shot at, and we just seem to have an endless streak of incidents in which public mistrust of the police is at stake.

More than two decades after Rodney King uttered his words about his preferred state of police/public relations, it seems we’re nowhere near to achieving them.

Now I had hoped to avoid writing much of anything about the New York police slayings, largely because I’m already sick of hearing about them elsewhere. A part of me regrets that I’m adding to the level of rhetoric.

ALTHOUGH WHAT ALSO bothers me is the fact that I have read way too much Internet commentary from people who want to perceive the shootings of the two New York police officers as some sort of evidence that both Brown and Garner were a pair of “(Insert preferred racial slur here) who got what they deserved.”

I don’t doubt that the two officers (who were of Chinese and Puerto Rican ethnic origins, and not white) were caught off guard and weren't threatening anyone at the time they were shot.

But I’m more repulsed by the New York police officers who pulled their symbolic gesture of contempt of turning their backs on on Mayor Bill de Blasio, claiming he was wrong with his past comments implying that perhaps people who were protesting Garner’s death at the hands of New York police just a few weeks ago were justified in their feelings – despite the grand jury that refused to return an indictment against the officers involved.

Perhaps they’re going to be eager to believe the latest police-related death in the St. Louis suburbs is yet another incident of brave law enforcement officers sparing society from yet another person who would have turned out to be a thug. Which is why I'm not enthused that the Chicago Police Department has its officers wearing black bands on their uniforms as a tribute to their New York law enforcement brethren.

THAT KIND OF attitude of knee-jerk support for cops is offensive on so many levels. While I can understand the legal reasons why prosecutors are reluctant to go after police, I also fully comprehend why people feel nothing but contempt for such an attitude.

As though they’re being singled out for abuse by people committing what can amount to criminal acts and are using the authority granted by their badges to avoid facing the consequences.

Personally, I feel fortunate we haven’t had any such police/black people conflicts in the Chicago area anytime in the recent past. But we shouldn’t presume that we’re above such bad behavior.

Because that level of tension seems to be something universal to our society, and we can only hope our public officials figure out how to handle such circumstances better than other cities have done so.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy holidaze! Now log off and do something real to celebrate

This weblog has been in existence for just over seven years (Saturday was the anniversary date), and I’m going to use this post to deliver my usual holiday message – one I seriously believe.

If you’re actually reading this on Thursday, something is wrong. You need to log off your computer or smart phone or whatever device you’re using to access the Internet and find something in the real world to do.

THERE ARE TIMES I think our lives have become overtaken by these devices. There’s nothing you’d read on the Internet or on Facebook or Twitter on Christmas Day that couldn’t wait until Friday.

That is when serious commentary about the “great issues” of the day will return here. You all should find something joyous with which to occupy your time.

Even if Christmas is irrelevant to you. For those who finished celebrating Hanukkah two days ago, I hope you had a wonderful experience.

And for those of you who want to literally be the personification of Ebenezer Scrooge, go “Bah, Humbug!” to yourself before trying to find some pleasure on this one holiday that ought to be an excuse to find relief from the problems and pressures of our lives!


EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of us of a certain age, watching the Ray Rayner Show around Christmas time meant catching these old holiday videos of “Suzy Snowflake,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Hardrock, Coco and Joe.” Although my holiday gift to you is “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Otis Redding. I’ll acknowledge Chuck Berry also did a nice take on this song. But if you’d rather hear Elvis or Christina Aguilera, all I have to say is you’re lacking in holiday taste.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What, really?!?

There are times I learn of happenings in the news that just astound me, not so much because I have some naïve faith in the proper behavior of people but because I’m amazed that anyone could possibly believe that such tacky behavior is in any way acceptable.

So that was pretty much my gut reaction to learning of the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Chicago Public Schools on account of actions at one Northwest Side school where administrators seemed to have a hang-up about their teachers who became pregnant.

IT SEEMS THAT teachers at the Scammon Elementary School who became impregnated found themselves facing harassment in terms of lower performance evaluation ratings and demotions in terms of class assignments.

It seemed as though school officials, according to the lawsuit now pending in U.S. District Court, wanted to discourage those teachers enough that they would quit. In some cases, those teachers didn’t seem to take the hint, and wound up being fired from their jobs – even some who had been around long enough to have acquired tenure.

The lawsuit contends that since 2009, eight teachers lost their jobs under such circumstances. Two of them filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found enough evidence to support claims that the Civil Rights Act was violated.

Which resulted in the lawsuit being filed this week – one that seeks financial compensation for the teachers who lost their jobs and court-ordered measures meant to prevent pregnant women from being harassed on the job in the future.

EVEN AS I write this commentary, I shake my head in disgust and amazement that anyone capable of getting a job within educational administration could think that any such behavior could in any be acceptable.

Let alone legal!

Reading the accounts of the lawsuit filed in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, along with the lawsuit itself made me feel like I was reading some decades-old account of actions that once might have been thought appropriate – but which we now realize are so pathetic that we wonder how we ever could have been that narrow-minded.

Then again, I’m sure there are behaviors we engage in that people 100 or so years from now will wonder, “How could they have ever been so clueless?”

SO CALL ME naïve. I’d like to think this is a lawsuit that will quickly be seen by Chicago Public Schools officials as an embarrassment, and one that they will want to work to resolve as quickly as possible.

And not just by throwing some money at the former teachers to get them to “Shut Up!” without having to admit any wrong-doing.

Particularly since it appears this is a matter that the Chicago Teachers Union had been aware of and had been trying unsuccessfully to get schools officials to address without having to get the courts involved.

Instead, it has wound up in the federal court system, where it will wind up being another blotch on our city’s reputation.

ALTHOUGH I SUSPECT there will be a few people who will want to dismiss these allegations in their minds as somehow being interference by the government in a local school’s administration. Instead of it being what it is – the courts attempting to protect people when the law is not being followed.

Acting assistant attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division had to make a statement publicly about this lawsuit, saying, “No woman should have to make a choice between her job and having a family. Federal law requires employers to maintain a workplace free of discrimination on the basis of sex.”

Which is sad that it even has to be said publicly.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

EXTRA: No wonder Rahm wants Willie off the mayoral ballot

There’s a Catholic school affiliated with St. Florian parish in the Hegewisch neighborhood that has been struggling with its finances to avoid being closed.

Now, it seems one of the mayoral hopefuls has a desire to be the person who ensures the school stays open.

THE CANDIDATE IS Willie Wilson, an African-American man who has managed to work his way to a fortune and likes to make charitable contributions to causes he deems worthy. Which is totally within his right to do so.

So, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper, Wilson planned to visit St. Florian Tuesday night with a $5,000 check – the amount that their fundraising drive fell short of the desired goal.

The school was among those slated by the Archdiocese last year to be closed, with church officials citing declining enrollment causing shortfalls in funding. The school remains open because local residents have worked aggressively to raise money to cover the budgetary shortfall.

This year, the goal was to raise $60,000, with the Big Shoulders Fund kicking in $25,000 and local efforts coming up with about $30,000.

WILSON WAS TO show up at the school Tuesday night with a personal check to make up the difference.

But Wilson also is one of the nine people who are trying to run for mayor in the Feb. 24 elections. Is this the kind of move meant to build goodwill that might actually persuade some of those Hegewisch residents to get off their duffs come Election Day and cast ballots for Willie?

It certainly can’t hurt!

Anyone who has been paying attention knows the Wilson name because he is one of the candidates who is having his ballot slot challenged. Most of those candidates are truly fringe who have next to no shot of getting more than 1 percent of the vote.

BUT WILSON, WHO began his business ventures by running McDonald’s franchises on the South Side and expanding into more substantial efforts throughout the years, differs because he has the kind of money to self-fund a serious campaign – if he so wishes.

If you want to believe that Wilson is too much of a no-name to take seriously, consider that Bruce Rauner was equally a political nobody before he started kicking in the dozens of millions of dollars to buy himself just the right image that enabled him to win the governor’s elections held last month.

Could Wilson become the African-American equivalent of Rauner? Not if Emanuel’s political loyalists are capable of kicking him off the ballot.

Now I’m not implying there’s anything illegal about Wilson’s contribution. It’s his money, and I’m sure there’s no specific agreement that people will be required to vote for him in exchange for the contribution.

BUT YOU HAVE to admit, that’s a lot of goodwill that will be stirred up from Hegewisch residents to whom the thought of sending their kids to Washington School (in the Chicago Public School system) is absolutely abhorrent!

Which could also make it some of the most practically-spent money of this campaign cycle.


Can you libel North Korea? Is it all a film industry plot for attention?

It is one of the old gags of being a reporter-type person who covers a lot of crime activity – “You can’t libel the mob!”

No matter how critical one is in the details they write about organized crime, what are the gangsters going to do – file a lawsuit and testify under oath that you’re wrong?

I COULDN’T HELP but remember that thought when I read an Associated Press dispatch from Seoul, South Korea, about how the North Korea government late Sunday accused the United States of spreading “reckless” rumors about its alleged involvement in a hacking of Sony Pictures computers.

The wire service reported that a National Defense Commission statement said officials planned “our toughest counteraction” against the United States, which it said is a “cesspool of terrorism.”

It also said the North Korean government has proof that it had no connection to the computer invasion that wound up disclosing sensitive information about Sony and stirred up enough attention and fear about the upcoming film “The Interview” that Sony officials decided not to release it at all.

Now I’m not going to claim to have any specific detail about U.S. foreign policy or North Korean affairs. Although it wouldn’t shock me to learn that the people who actually did break into the Sony computers are not actual government officials, but sympathizers of the Communist regime that we technically have been at war with since 1950 (although no shooting has taken place since 1953).

ALTHOUGH I DON’T expect anyone to seriously offer proof of that. Because that would involve people, possibly even Kim Jong Un, to have to “take the stand,” so to speak, and tell the truth.

It’s easier for them to spew trash talk. Just like much of our own government’s rhetoric that has blown a potentially third-rate film up into an international incident. We’re talking about putting North Korea back on the list of nations that engage in “state-sponsored terrorism.” Considering that we’re going to have to remove Cuba from that list because of the plans to restore diplomatic relations, it means there’s a vacancy to be filled.

For those of you who have been hiding away in a cave (perhaps the one that Osama bin Laden once used to hide from the U.S. military), this is the film meant to be a comedy about two men hired to assassinate Kim.

But it is a comedy because the two would-be killers are portrayed as a pair of bunglers and the film tells the story about all the things that go wrong during their escapade.

IT MAKES “GET Smart” sound downright intellectual. It sounds like something that should have starred Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels (the crew from “Dumb and Dumber”).

It’s a stupid laugh, and if the North Korean government had any sense, they’d use the film against us as evidence of just how far our society has declined. Instead, they took it seriously and are reacting like nitwits, which had enough people connected to the film industry in this country concerned that the release of the film on Thursday was cancelled.

Which gave us that “Saturday Night Live” sketch this weekend where Michael Myers’ “Dr. Evil” character lambasted Kim as a buffoon and a disgrace to evil leaders the world over.

It also has Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., talking about trying to get a print of the film somehow (I’m not sure if he has that kind of connections) so he can show it during the fundraisers he will have to have in coming months if he is to have enough campaign cash to get re-elected in 2016.

HOW MANY PEOPLE are now going to pay $2,000 or so per ticket to watch an allegedly verboten film? How much unwarranted attention is “The Interview” going to get?

Then again, perhaps Myers’ involvement was appropriate. Because this whole saga has taken on the inane character of a storyline from one of the Austin Powers series of parodies about James Bond-type films.

Which actually makes the conspiracy-theory portion of my intellectual makeup wonder if Sony is eternally grateful for the attention that caused them to stop the film’s distribution.

When it does finally get out, people will think they’re making a political statement by going to see it. Instead of just watching what could have turned out to be a corny story that would have been out of the movie theaters shortly after the coming of the New Year.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Will school officials be like judges?

There are those who are trying to turn the board of education of the Chicago Public Schools into a mayoral campaign issue.

Specifically, mayoral challengers Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Robert Fioretti are both trying to attack incumbent Rahm Emanuel for having the authority to pick members of the school board, saying it gives him way too much authority.

OF COURSE, WE all saw how this particular mayor would misuse that authority (in their view) when the Chicago Public Schoos engaged in a cost-cutting measure that shut down some 50 neighborhood schools – all of which happened to be in the non-white parts of the city.

That act was allegedly a blow to those people, and several mayoral challengers in the upcoming elections are more than willing to pledge that they will push for measures permitting the board of education’s members to be chosen by the voters.

It sounds nice. But I can’t help but wonder if this is something that people will wind up coming to despise once it is implemented. Because I’m not convinced that an “elected” school board would be any different than an “appointed” one.

If the sole objection is the person who gets to make the appointments, then that is a different concern than about the idea of appointments themselves.

AS I SEE it, the ballots on Election Day already are long enough, what with the many various posts that need to be filled. We already have too many people of the “Archie Bunker mentality” – remember how he only voted for Richard Nixon against Jack Kennedy, and deemed all other elections as not worthy of his time?

If somebody believes we’re going to have spirited elections for seats on the school board and great debate over educational issues, that’s naïve.

What is more likely to happen is that school board elections would wind up at the bottom of the ballot, and most people will either skip over them – or just randomly pick a few names.

Way too much like they already go about picking judges or seats on boards like the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

DO WE REALLY need more officials elected to positions just because of random luck, or the fact that the local political organizations were able to stir circumstances to ensure their preferred candidates got picked?

Because that is what will happen. The same organizations who already wind up dictating who actually serves in the state Legislature will wind up being able to slate their preferred party hacks to sit on the school board. Electing people will merely benefit those within the political party who know how to play the game, so to speak, of Election Day.

At least now, the school board being picked by Emanuel means we can hold him directly responsible for anything we believe it has done wrong. I’m not criticizing people who want to blame the mayor for what has happened in the schools – I just think they’re being naïve if they think an elected board will make a difference.

There are those who argue that the suburbs already elect their school board members, and that city residents ought to be entitled to do the same.

BUT HAVE ANY of you ever seriously observed the structure of many of those school boards? In my duties throughout the years with various suburban newspapers, I have.

Many of them wind up consisting of would-be political hacks who don’t have the intelligence or skills necessary to get elected to their local city council or village board. A school board seat winds up being the consolation prize that allows them to say they’re a local public official.

There are times I wonder if those voters would be better off having their school boards appointed by some entity that might actually have educational issues at stake. Just as I wonder if judges ought to be appointed by some non-partisan entity more concerned about the law!

Electing them doesn’t seem to create intense interest in the judicial composition, and occasionally creates dumping grounds for former political people who managed to make it through law school.

THERE ARE TIMES when I feel like a judicial post is just another teat for political people to feed off of once they are no longer of daily use to the crew at City Hall.

For the good of us all, I’d hate to see the Chicago Board of Education become the equivalent. Which is what an elected board could wind up doing.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quinn made the safe comptroller choice, no matter what anyone thinks

Gov. Pat Quinn made his pick Friday for who gets to be Illinois comptroller for three-and-a-half weeks, and it’s Jerry Stermer.

That’s a name that will draw a reaction of “Who??!?” from the bulk of people. Although anyone who pays attention to state government and politics and Quinn throughout the years will know the name.

HE ONCE WAS Quinn’s chief of staff, and has held many other positions under Quinn during that man’s time in various government posts. Most recently, he was the governor’s budget director.

Meaning he was the governor’s personal financial expert and the guy whose staff ought to be cooperating with aides to Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner to get them prepared for the state budget they’re going to have to propose in the spring of 2015.

So doesn’t it kind of make sense that Quinn, confronted with a situation where he has to pick a person to run the constitutional office that oversees the state’s bank accounts and makes sure bills get paid in a sort-of timely fashion, would turn to this trusted aide to oversee the state’s finances for the remaining weeks of his gubernatorial term?

To me it does. Personally, I always thought that if Quinn truly wanted to make a non-controversial appointment to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, he ought to just pick his budget director.

HE’S ACQUAINTED WITH how much of a mess the state’s finances are. He’s been around state government for years.

And because he’s not the kind of guy who has ever put his name on a ballot, he’s not likely to have any ambition to stick around beyond the Jan. 12 date on which state government transitions itself to the officials who got themselves elected back in November.

In fact, Stermer himself made a point of saying he would formally resign on Jan. 12 as of Noon, and that he’s not viewing his nearly-one month-long stint as a state constitutional officer as a way of boosting the pension benefits he will someday receive.

He could do that, but he says he won’t. Although he will accept the comptroller’s salary for the next three weeks – which is about $10,000 per year higher than the gubernatorial budget director salary he now receives, according to the Capitol Fax newsletter.

OF COURSE, WE have the ideologues who are upset that he would dare pick someone for a short-term vacancy whose loyalty presumably would be to him.

There are those who will perpetually argue that Topinka’s long-time chief of staff, Nancy Kimme, should have been the one to get a short-term post. Although my own experience in dealing with government staffers (as opposed to the elected officials they work for) is that they usually have the temperament that makes them suited to following orders and running things, rather than setting grand policy decisions.

A good staffer makes an elected official look better. They don’t necessarily make a good public official in and of themselves.

Besides, the ideologue types are likely to get a chance to nominate the long-term pick for Topinka, who won’t be able to fulfill the four-year term to which she was chosen last month.

TRYING TO CLAIM that Quinn was somehow being irresponsible with his pick on Friday merely makes them seem to be greedy! We still have to figure out what will happen for the long-term. Who will Rauner pick? Will the Legislature try to force a special election for the post in 2016?

Considering that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, hasn’t done anything yet to indicate he’s willing to cooperate with Quinn’s demand for a special session come Jan. 8 (it does need to be resolved before the mid-January transition to a new General Assembly), it makes me wonder if it will be more rhetorical nonsense spewed on the issue.

Take into account that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is the one who issued the opinion saying there ought to be a special election and Michael Madigan is saying he wants the two governor-types to resolve this on their own, what happens if father defies daughter?

Will there be a Merry Christmas at the Madigan household next week?