Saturday, October 31, 2015

An adios to my hermanito – he definitely will be missed for some time

My brother (wearing the Mexico City Red Devils jersey) and I with assorted cousins this summer. The jersey was among the quirks of his personality.
Friday is quite possibly the worst day of my life. I lost my little brother.

Christopher I. Tejeda (I for Ignacio, who was our paternal grandfather) suffered a serious stroke Thursday afternoon – so much so that we were told by medical officials to give up any hope of a full recovery.

WHEN EVEN MINIMAL body reactions and reflexes were lost, the decision was made to let him go – and my brother was pronounced dead at 1:39 p.m. A memorial service is likely to be held in a couple of weeks, but nothing is even close to being scheduled yet.

Now it’s not just because he was my younger brother (only 45 – I’m 50) that it seems so unfair that he could go so suddenly. He and I went out for a Thursday morning breakfast and afterwards he wanted to take a nap.

Where it seems he suffered the aneurism that killed his brain functions so quickly that doctors say it was unlikely he realized what hit him. (And yes, it's the old City News Bureau reporter-type in me that catches so much detail over what could be regarded as a "cheap" ME).

But my brother is going to be missed for so many reasons – and not just because he was actually splitting the rent on my current abode.

HE MAY HAVE been my little brother, but there was nothing about him that ought to be in the diminutive – which makes the headline of this commentary something of a gag I’m sure he’d get.

When our mother suffered a downtown in her health that made the final decade of her life difficult, it was Chris who stepped up to take care of her and make sure her needs were met and her life was as comfortable as can be for someone who was being kept alive by kidney dialysis treatments that were excruciatingly painful.

As much as I’d like to say I had a role in her care, I know full well she would have been a lot worse off it not for my little brother.

Heck, he even was capable of bailing me out from time of time – particularly during those times of my adult working life when I had job layoffs (there have been three such periods, and for all I know I could someday face a fourth).

THEN AGAIN, THE life of a freelance writer is such that the next paycheck often gets easily delayed – and it was my brother who was the fallback until the time I wound up getting compensation and he could then get paid.

He actually had a kind-hearted nature that also translated into a work ethic – he had several jobs with companies that sold home repair products and services, to the point where he developed some skills of use around the house.

And among the items I will inherit from him will be a fairly awesome set of tools – some of which I probably will need some training in how to use (since my own tool kit consists of a hammer, some pliers and a few screwdrivers of assorted heads and sizes).

Yet even though he was at an age when many people were more than willing to settle for their lot in life, he was still looking for the way to move up on the professional scene. Lazy, he wasn’t!

PERSONALLY, HE WAS a baseball fan, and one of the New York Yankees even though by childhood birth he should have been a Chicago White Sox fan. He stuck with the Yankees even when they went through their 15-season streak of mediocrity to downright suckiness.

But it wasn’t blind faith he felt – he was the first to admit this year’s Yankees squad wasn’t good enough to deserve a World Series appearance. Although I suspect that somewhere in another realm, he’s prepared to get disgusted if the New York Mets actually win.

Now for those of you who have a problem with my writing this commentary, I say tough. It’s one of the advantages of having my own site to publish.

It’s kind of like those t-shirts that say someone traveled somewhere exotic, and all I got was a crummy t-shirt. My brother was a worthwhile soul who deserves a lot more out of life than this crummy copy – even though that’s the best I can give to him on this day.

  -30-

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cops must look uniform, including covering up tattoos they may have

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, but a federal court judge this week ruled that a police officer’s need to maintain a uniform appearance is more important than their desire to express themselves.

Which, in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by three Chicago patrol officers, would have meant easing up on uniform requirements telling them they have to cover up their tattoos – no matter how inconvenient that might be.

U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE Charles Kocoras was the official who threw their lawsuit out of court, ruling that the police department has a legitimate need to have a consistent appearance for its officers – even if the officers themselves feel their tattoos allow themselves to express their inner beings.

The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times both reported Thursday that the officers in question have tattoos on their arms that refer to their military service. Which might not be the most off-beat image that one would expect to see on a cop.

Some people might even feel assured at the thought that someone who once wore the uniform of the United States Marines is now patrolling their block.

Then again, other people might feel all the more offended that a “jarhead” has the legal authority to determine probable cause to detain them for whatever imagined offense they may perceive.

YES, I COULD picture a cop’s tattoo offending someone enough to cause an outburst. When it comes to outbursts, there’s never any real sense of logic to them. Life has its share of stupidity.

Yet I can’t help but think that limiting a police officer’s tattoos in public isn’t the most outrageous thing that could happen. It’s not like a person’s ability to get hired as a police officer is limited by their tattoos.

Which, in the real world, isn’t the case. There are companies that would refuse to hire people who have tattoos that are totally garish and so publicly displayed that there’d be no way to use the flesh-colored (if you’re of a certain racial persuasion) tape that some people use to cover up their most public tattoos.

Tattoos can be a drawback in our society.

IT WOULD HAVE been a radical change for society if a judge had been permissive of a cop showing off his tattooed arms while on duty.

Now I realize this is a generational thing, and that there are those people just a little bit younger than I who are bewildered by the thought of people who have never got themselves tattooed. Even though I’m too willing to associate tattoos with prison inmates who use them to publicly mark their gang associations.

There are those people who have something on their back or perhaps on their ankle, some cute little design. I’m not about to start a rant about how tacky their designs are. It’s their own business.

But it isn’t something I have ever done, and honestly doubt I ever will. If you don’t believe me, I’d be willing to show you my hairy, un-tattooed behind. Which is something I doubt you really want to see.

SO I HAVE my own bias about tattoos – I don’t mind Judge Kocoras’ ruling, which said that permitting their public display “undermine(s) the Chicago Police Department’s ability to maintain the public trust and respect.”

I’m inclined to think that the legal fight over tattoos is something that was best put to rest.

But I do have to admit one part of the judge’s ruling that is questionable – it also supported the provisions that prevent police officers from wearing knit caps during the winter months.

Anybody who has ever experienced a Chicago winter knows that only an absolute fool goes out in the cold without some sort of covering for the head and ears. And only a knucklehead thinks cops would be better off wearing ear muffs during a snowy, cold day!

  -30-

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is Illinois government becoming the ultimate financial deadbeat?

The next time I hear a state government official complain about people not meeting their financial obligations, I’m going to have to retort that they have become the ultimate collection of deadbeats.

For while some people want to downplay the impact of state government’s financial problems and lack of a state budget by saying that 90 percent of government operates by court decree, it would seem the remaining 10 percent is enough to make our state look stupid.

WHAT BOTHERS ME is the latest financial incident impacting the state – the fact that a company is repossessing five trucks it leased to the state Department of Corrections.

The company, known as the Larson Group, negotiated a contract by which the state pays them $68,000 per year to provide trucks used by Illinois Corrections Industries to ship the goods that prison inmates make to locations where they are then sold to the public.

But the lack of a state budget (which is an Illinois Constitution requirement) means that the bills for the time period from July through now have yet to be paid.

The Larson Group made the decision to take back the trucks, even though the Chicago Tribune reported that the terms of their lease with the state called for the trucks to remain in state use through the end of the next fiscal year.

HAVING AN OUTSTANDING debt of just over $17,000 was the point at which Larson Group decided the state was no longer worthy of being trusted. The trucks, currently parked at a facility in downstate Lincoln, are supposed to be returned on Thursday.

The fact that the bill will eventually get paid once our state officials get off their stubborn derrieres and negotiate a balanced budget (which becomes more difficult the longer they wait to do so) wasn’t enough to keep the company’s faith in doing business with state government.

Now the Tribune reported that Corrections Department officials have other vehicles they can put into use to make the shipments for corrections industries. There won’t be immediate delay in the goods made by prison inmates for next to no wage actually making it to the public.

Although the image of the state being the target of repossession is an embarrassment – just as much as the reports in recent weeks about how the utility bills for the Capitol building and other state government facilities in Springfield aren’t getting paid.

FORTUNATELY FOR STATE operations, no one has cut off the electricity or the water supply. But we’re developing a real deadbeat reputation – one that ought to be particularly embarrassing for those who claim the financial standoff is somehow justified because it will result in taking down the labor unions that are somehow the cause of our real problems.

Who’s to say we don’t start getting a flood of similar repossessions?

Because we really don’t seem to be getting any closer to resolving the financial problem – which this time isn’t so much financial as much as politically partisan.

Nor do I believe the rhetoric that somehow January is going to be a magical point in time at which a budget deal will be reached.

PERSONALLY, I CAME to the realization in mid-August that the “sides” in this political fight were stubborn enough to create the possibility that Fiscal 2016 could be the year we never get a budget. As it turns out, even if a budget deal is reached, the spending already done for the past four months has been at a higher rate than the state can afford.

State officials are concerned they don’t want to pass anything resembling a tax increase. They may have to pass a larger one now than they would have had to back in May to make up for the money that may have been wasted.

Which makes me think the best thing that could have happened to Illinois would have been if the judge in St. Clair County (the St. Louis suburbs in Illinois) had ruled months ago that the lack of a budget REALLY DID MEAN state employees couldn’t have been paid; rather than going out of his way to rule against the Cook County judge who would have cut off the payroll.

Because the pressure those workers would have put on Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly with their anger would have ensured we’d have had a budget by Aug. 1 at the latest.

  -30-

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

EXTRA: Six months?

It would appear that could become the prison term that one-time House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert may receive when he faces sentencing come Feb. 29.

Hastert, as expected, showed up at the federal courthouse Wednesday and entered a plea of “guilty” to one charge of evading bank reporting requirements. Because he didn’t fight and was regarded as being cooperative, the other charge of lying to FBI agents was dropped.

BUT AS ALSO expected, we didn’t get any titillating details about why Hastert needed to come up with so much cash that he had to go around laws regarding bank withdrawals and how much one can get at one point of time without having to report the transaction to the federal government.

We got the hints early on that Hastert needed the money to pay someone off to keep their mouth shut about allegations of sexual indiscretions back when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School.

But that’s it. Hastert, by being willing to accept a minimal prison term come Leap Day, may well have made his indiscretions the question to which we’ll never know the answer.

At least not until the National Enquirer pays someone to tell a tale that may be about as accurate as the stories the supermarket tabloids have come up with about President Barack Obama’s alleged infidelities.

  -30-

Denny Hastert isn’t about to give the public a load of legal titillation

J. Dennis Hastert, the one-time speaker of the House of Representatives who allegedly made payoffs to try to keep people quiet with their stories about sexual indiscretions occurring decades ago, is going to bear a little bit of shame

HASTERT: From the old days of glory
He’s scheduled to make an appearance at the U.S. District courthouse in Chicago, with the understanding that he will enter pleas of “guilty” to select criminal charges.

HE’S GOING TO be captured on video cameras making the “perp walk” and those images will linger on for years to come – any time he is mentioned in the future he will be a convicted felon.

There are even some news reports that already are using the phrase “the highest-ranking Illinois politician ever convicted” to describe Denny Hastert.

So yes, Hastert is going to endure a certain level of shame on Wednesday. I’m sure he’s going to view the day as the most humiliating experience he ever endures. His backers will probably claim his ordeal is one no one deserves to go through.

But let’s be honest. There are going to be a load of other people who will be convinced that Hastert – one of only three men from Illinois who ever became the leader of the House of Representatives, a position that Rahm Emanuel himself once aspired to – didn’t suffer anywhere near as much as they think he should.

THEY’RE ALSO GOING to rant and rage about how unjust it is that we don’t get more graphic detail about what exactly it is that Hastert has done. For the reality is that the word “allegedly” is forevermore going to be backed onto the accusations made against Denny.

No one is ever likely to fulfill the titillation level that some people are determined to raise this case up to. There’s going to be a lot of self-righteous rhetoric about how justice was not served and how the federal government is somehow covering up for Hastert.

Although I really suspect what they’re going to be upset about is that they didn’t get some sordid sex tale to pass around amongst themselves.

Because the limited reports that have come out contend that Hastert, back when he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach, got sexually involved with some of his student athletes.

SUPPOSEDLY, HASTERT MADE promises to pay some $3.5 million to people to get them to keep their mouths shut. Some $1.7 million was actually paid, and federal investigators contend that nearly $1 million was withdrawn in ways that violate federal law.

Yes, there are laws restricting the ways that bank withdrawals are made – meant to interfere with money’s use for potential in criminal activity. It seems that the Hastert criminal case is about financial technicalities.

Which are what will be focused on come the court hearing on Wednesday. The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that former federal prosecutors said the current prosecutors would focus solely on what facts are necessary to prove the financial offenses.

And if it turns out that Hastert appears to be cooperating by entering a guilty plea that reduces the focus of charges even further, then that reduces the titillation factor even further.

WE’RE NOT GOING to be writing sex stories about something Denny did back in his early 1970s days as a wrestling coach. We may not even get many financial details that would portray him as some sort of wealthy hack.

It may wind up becoming the most overrated guilty plea and sentencing on our political scene – a whole lot of anticipation and a whole lot of nothing in result.

And considering that Hastert’s time as a political person is complete (just like one-time 10th Ward Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak), his actual loss will be minimal.

No matter how much he says he’s humiliated beyond belief.

  -30-

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We’re frustrated w/ Rubio “frustration”

I comprehend the idea that Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida with presidential dreams, is “frustrated.”

RUBIO: Frustrated? Or stubborn?
We, the American people, are all frustrated, if now downright repulsed, by the fact that we have a Congress so bogged down in political partisanship that nothing gets done.

LARGELY BECAUSE OF the segment of the Republican caucus that believes the way our government ought to work is that they dictate their ideological desires to us – and we just shut up and do what we’re told.

A very un-American way of thinking, to my mindset. One that Rubio is often guilty of participating in himself.

We’re in an era in which the partisan mindsets are engaged in battle with each other – and it is likely that what the Obama presidency ultimately will be remembered for is the way in which its desires got tangled up in the ideological hang-ups of Congress.

But back to Rubio, who tells the Washington Post how his dislike for Congress is so intense that he doesn’t want to run for re-election when his six-year term ends next year.

IT MEANS THAT Rubio is throwing his political future into getting elected as president come next year. If he doesn’t get picked to replace Barack Obama in January 2017, he’ll be politically finished.

Like many political people, Rubio went to Capitol Hill with a touch of “Mr. Smith” in him, hoping to become a real-life version of James Stewart’s famed character – only perhaps a little bit schmaltzy.

Does Rubio see himself as the Cubano sequel?
There was a time when Rubio, a Cuban-American whose parents came to the United States just before the Castro revolution that chased many people away from the Caribbean island nation, thought he was going to be the Republican who could persuade his GOP colleagues to realize that Latinos weren’t necessarily “the enemy” who needed to be put down.

That there could be some serious reform to the nation’s immigration policy – which people with sense realize has always been necessary.

BUT IT DIDN’T quite work out that way. Those Republicans who led their ideology dictate everything stood in the way, just like those with the ultimate misnomer of the “Freedom Caucus” have killed off GOP House speakers who aren’t ideologically hardline enough for them.
 
OBAMA: A Rubio role-model?
Rubio’s allies aren’t all that friendly. But it’s not like Democrats have been any better toward him. They were more than willing to kill off his AGREE Act that was billed as a job-creation plan and was regarded as about as non-partisan as anything get these days.

This is a Congress where it could be argued that one of the few things Rubio sponsored that actually got passed was a resolution praising the Miami Heat for winning one of their National Basketball Association championships.

Considering how many basketball fans were repulsed by that whole stretch of winning that took place in Miami due to LeBron James and his friends that could be held against him.

YET THIS ATTITUDE of frustration is also what is wrong with our government – which by its very definition is designed to encourage compromise. Rubio saying he doesn’t want to be in the Senate any longer because it won’t do what he tells them to do comes across as a political whiner.

Personally, I think he’d be showing himself to be more potentially presidential if he’d learn to work with the opposition – and quit worrying about those hard-liners who are beyond redemption.

BENTSEN: Remembering comparison
Although I’m sure that, to Rubio’s mindset, he’s thinking that Obama was only 47 when he was elected president in 2008 – compared to Marco who will be 45 on Election Day next year. But the differing attitudes toward compromise (Obama is such a compromiser to the point where some Democrats wonder if he gives up too much) and Rubio’s stubborn streak are the real story.

Where it almost makes me want to paraphrase one-time VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen against Dan Quayle in telling Rubio, “Senator, you’re no Barack Obama.”

  -30-

Monday, October 26, 2015

Despite the Cubbie dreams, this year’s World Series will have a White Sox tint

I find it humorous that the World Series this year – beginning Tuesday between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets – has as its Chicago connections players who did their Second City stint with the White Sox.

This was (at least according to the delusions of Cubs fans) the year that Wrigley Field would be the dominant presence and that we’d get a Chicago ball club winning a World Series title on its hallowed ground.

BUT THAT DIDN’T come to pass. After all, the Mets outplayed the Cubs last week. The baby blue overtones that will be on the field will come from the ball club from Kansas City, Mo.

Now since Chicago ball clubs in the World Series are such a rare presence (it has been exactly one decade ago on Monday since the White Sox blessed us with that victory over the Houston Astros), I usually focus some attention on which ballplayers on the league championship teams have Chicago connections.

This year, it means following the activity of Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon and Royals outfielder Alex Rios – both of whom have included the White Sox amongst the major league teams they have played for.

Although if we’re looking for Chicago connections, we’d also have to take into account Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson – who was born in suburban Blue Island, played high school ball in suburban Lansing then played college baseball for the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Curtis Granderson with a former White Sox star in Magglio Ordonez
MAKING GRANDERSON A guy who once played his home games on a ballfield in the shadows of the downtown skyscrapers – and in fact now has his off-season residence in the Near West neighborhood near the campus.

Considering that Granderson and Rios both play right field for their respective ball clubs, it would seem Chicago fans would be focusing their attention on that part of the ball field in searching for something local to observe.

I don’t know how many Chicagoans of the Cubs fan persuasion are going to be inclined to want to back Granderson, since he is a part of the reason it’s not the Cubs in the World Series this week.
 
Why he couldn't play so well in Chicago?
He had a .385 on-base percentage throughout the playoffs this month, although his batting average during the four games last week against the Cubs was a mere .200.

BUT IT COULD be something from Chicago if Granderson were to finally be on a World Series-winning team following the all-or-parts of 12 seasons he has played in major league ball. Only one of which was with a World Series-bound team – the Detroit Tigers who lost in 2006 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Or else we could watch Rios, who during his all-or-parts of five seasons with the White Sox was one of the reasons that fans dreamed of having a chance at winning another championship to go with the ’05 pennant that still flies prominently over U.S. Cellular Field.

He finally made it to playoff baseball with Kansas City – and hit .368 with one home run and two doubles during the playoffs thus far. Which I’m sure will infuriate those White Sox fans (and cause Cubs fans to chuckle with glee) as to why the goof couldn’t play so well back then.


Reminiscent of one-time pitcher Wilbur Wood
Then, there’s the 42-year-old Colon, whose pitching for eight teams in both leagues includes two stints with the White Sox (2003 and 2009). The former of which was the year the White Sox nearly won a division title – only to fall to second place in mid-September behind the Minnesota Twins.

PERSONALLY, I’LL HAVE to confess to not realizing until this weekend that Colon was even still pitching in professional baseball. Although the New York Daily News reported recently how Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia (who’s 26) considers Colon to be his mentor.

Or there’s also Addison Reed of the Mets, whom the White Sox drafted in 2010 from San Diego State University, where he pitched for the Aztecs and the Sox thought he’d be the star relief pitcher of the future.
 
Coulda been a Sox star, 'sted of Met reliever
Instead, he did a couple of seasons with the White Sox before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, then winding up as a part of the Mets bullpen this year.
 
Where the World Series will come up this week with Cubs fans wishing they were there and White Sox fans wishing those rummies could have played as well when they wore the Old English “Sox” script on their jerseys.

  -30-

EDITOR'S NOTE: Am I the only one who thinks it odd that back in 2005, the World Series was complete by now, whereas this year it won't even start until Tuesday and won't be complete until early November?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

We’ll get to see how much (or little) party politicking has changed in Cook

Political party officials, and not just in Chicago, are usually stubborn types who think they’re always right and that if they just stand fast in their ways anybody who has the nerve to complain will just go away!

BROWN: How long will she keep the lawbooks?
So it is with that attitude in mind that we ought to appreciate the happenings of Friday in which the Democratic Party for Cook County decided to openly dump on Dorothy Brown in her desire to get elected to a fifth term as Cook County court clerk.

HERS IS THE office that keeps track of what happens in the court system, and has been criticized often in the past for maintaining antiquated office procedures that often make it more complicated to get information than it ought to be.

Brown also has come under criticism, and investigation, on claims that employees of her office were being forced to make payments to Brown if they were to have any chance of having their desires for job promotions taken seriously.

In short, bribes. That is if we’re to believe the little tidbits that have come from the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.

Recently, there were reports that federal investigators came to Brown’s home, and wound up confiscating her cell phone. Although Brown – who claims that all political people wind up being investigated at one point in time or another – says the phone was taken from her outside her house.

THAT IS A point that might matter to her, but I doubt many in the general public will make any such distinction.

Which may be why the Cook County Democratic Party, which earlier this year slated Brown as the officially preferred candidate for county court clerk in next year’s March primary, felt compelled to take it back.

They gathered on Friday, heard Brown out, then gathered in a back room for a brief bit of time before deciding to rescind her as the party pick.

By days’ end, the party shifted their preference to 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris. Meaning that party precinct workers, when working their areas and encouraging people to vote, are supposed to tell people to pick Harris for county court clerk.

WHETHER PEOPLE WILL actually do that is yet to be seen. Perhaps in the old days, it would have been a shoo-in for Harris to win the nomination (and most likely, the general election next November).

HARRIS: How long until she blamed for flaws?
But I wonder if many people will have been so used to hearing the “Dorothy Brown” name throughout the years that they will give a knee-jerk reaction and vote for her. Will anybody remember five months from now what happened on Friday?

We’d like to think they would. But who’s to really say how seriously people will take the political party hacks who acted on Friday as though they could will away the presence of Dorothy Brown?

Personally, I think Friday was memorable for one moment – the point when Brown tried arguing that the county party structure had no authority to rescind her slating because she gave the party a $25,000 donation AFTER being slated earlier this year.

SHE CLAIMED IT was the equivalent of a legally-binding contract, although her description also makes it sound more like a bribe; like she bought the right to be the officially recognized choice of the Democratic Party.

As it is, I have already read my share of anonymous Internet commentary saying Brown has no concept of a contract, and has revealed her ignorance.

It will be curious to see just how extensive that thought is among the electorate. Will Brown manage to get herself re-elected despite the slating shift; thereby requiring an indictment and eventual criminal conviction to remove her from office?

Or will it soon become Harris who becomes the person who takes the blame for now antiquated the court clerk’s record keeping measures are?

  -30-

Friday, October 23, 2015

Smith, Jackson add to list of local pols who do incarceration routine

By the time you read this Friday, Derrick Smith will likely be en route to a federal correctional center where he will serve the next few months as punishment for the label he’ll have to bear for the rest of his life – a corrupt Chicago politician.

SMITH: Countdown begins Friday
Smith was the Illinois House member from the West Side whom the Legislature tried to kick out of its ranks – only to have the voters send him back to the Statehouse scene until said time that the U.S. Attorney’s office got around to indicting him.

HE EVENTUALLY WAS found guilty, sentenced to five months in prison, then engaged in a series of maneuvers meant to delay having to serve the sentence.

Those maneuvers extended into this week, when U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman rejected them on the grounds she had no faith that his legal appeal of his conviction would succeed.

Meaning he now has to begin serving his time within the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. If he doesn’t report by Friday, he becomes a federal fugitive – which might sound like an enticing story to write.

Although I suspect that if Smith were to become a political fugitive, he’d become even more nondescript than he was as an elected official.

SMITH WAS LITERALLY a legislator for so short a period of time and accomplished so little that the only reason he will be remembered is for the story of how he regained his political post even after he was kicked out of office.

Nobody is going to take up the cause of Derrick Smith and claim that he should do anything other than serve his five months of prison time – which really is a short stint.

He could literally be free (having paid his debt to society, to use the tacky old cliché) some time around St. Patrick’s Day.

JACKSON: 362 more days to go
Although he will get the experience of serving a Thanksgiving Day, Christmas holiday and Valentines’ Day within the prison environment. Which isn’t something I would want to see anyone have to endure. Even if it is just a minimum-security environment.

SMITH GETS TO be just another among the list of our local political people who managed to cross over the line and wind up with a criminal record. While speculating if that $7,000 he took from what turned out to be an undercover FBI agent was worth the ordeal he’ll now have to go through.

As it turns out, the same day that Coleman rejected Smith’s request to stay out of prison was the same day that former 7th Ward alderman Sandi Jackson reported to the minimum-security facility for women in West Virginia to begin serving her one-year sentence.

Her offense? She signed the tax returns that one-time Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., used to try to justify the legality of the campaign contribution spending he did for personal items.

Which federal prosecutors said made her an accomplice to the Congressman’s actions – which amounted to using those funds to buy tacky items such as Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and personal items that once belonged to singer Michael Jackson.

THESE AREN’T EXACTLY Public Enemies Number One. But the congressman served his prison time and is now back with the kids, raising them while their mother serves her prison time. Which in a court quirk will not include any time off for good behavior.

She’ll do a full year of time, meaning she’ll get to return to Chicago just before Halloween of 2016.

Sandi Jackson will do her time at Alderson, which as one of the few federal facilities for women has quite an “alumni” list – Martha Stewart did her prison time there when federal officials went after her business operations.

HOLIDAY: Prison instead of treatment
And if you go back a few decades, singer Billie Holiday also was an inmate back when her heroin addiction (and most likely her race) caused authorities to treat her as a criminal rather than someone who needed treatment – and the lady really did sing the blues for a stretch!

  -30-

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Moving Christmas tree closer to people rather than pols; what about menorah?

In a certain sense, it makes sense for Chicago’s official Christmas holiday tree to move from its current location in the Daley Plaza.

This scene from 2013 won't be returning to Daley Plaza come December. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda
That location puts the city’s giant tree within sight of the Daley Center courthouse and the Cook County Building, while being within a quick walk of City Hall and the Thompson Center state government building.

IN SHORT, THE perfect spot for all of the city’s politically-oriented people to have the tree within their sightline, or close by for their thoughts.

Considering that our politicos often think they are the center of the universe (and consider those people with little to no interest in politics or government to be subversives), it is no wonder that the tree has been in the same place for virtually every year since 1966.

The Chicago Tribune reported that there was one holiday season (1982) when the city set up the official tree at State Street and Wacker Drive – although I honestly have no recollection of that moment (even though I was 17 and was very much city-based back then – I left for college in Bloomington, Ill., and Washington, D.C. the following year).

Considering that I was born in ’65 (yes, I turned a half-century old a couple of months ago), it isn’t an exaggeration for me to say that the holiday tree is a life-long tradition for me.

Picasso seems so lonely the rest of year
YOU CHECK OUT the holiday decorations set up on State Street in the department store windows, then venture over to the Daley Plaza to see the tree.

Although in recent years, there has been that German-themed Christmas village set up in the space around the city’s official tree. They even set up the city’s official Hanukkah menorah right by.

It has become a festive city tradition, and one that makes the Picasso statue also located in the Daley Plaza seem so naked the rest of the year with nothing but the pigeons surrounding it.

But that will be no more beginning with this holiday season. For city officials announced this week that when they erect the city’s official tree on Nov. 24, it will be in Millennium Park.

NOT AMONGST THE political people. But at a location where they hope it will attract even more public attention. Technically, it will now have a Michigan Avenue address; rather than a Clark Street one.

Will the city menorah move with the tree?
Although since it will now be near the Maggie Daley Park, one could argue that the city will still use the Daley name as the location for official city holiday celebrations.

There also is the fact that the city has an ice rink nearby, and there will be the vision of people being able to skate and slip on the ice before checking out a giant, 55-foot-tall tree (usually a spruce or a fir).

The kind of Christmas holiday celebration that could wind up appearing on postcards that bear the official symbol of city recognition.

UNLIKE THE PAST celebrations which had an ice rink one block to the east back in the day when Block 37 was vacant and officials set up a temporary ice rink each winter so as to make the downtown location seem just a little less decrepit than it had become.

So what should we think of this shift? It is going to take some getting used to, although I suppose there is a younger generation that will think nothing of this move.

There even is a sense of history returning, as there once was a time when the official holiday tree was set up in Grant Park – dating back to the first city tree in 1913.

But for me, the occasions when I walk through Daley Plaza come December are going to seem a bit strange. The plaza in December without having to work one’s way through a maze caused by the Christmas village AND the holiday tree will seem deserted.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

EXTRA: 4-2 + 4-1 + 5-2 + 8-3 = Sweep

Yes, it seems that Chicago Cubbiness has retained its essential character. The final round of the National League playoffs resulted Wednesday in the New York Mets managing to thoroughly wipe up the floor with the Cubs.

Looks like the Post won't have to take it back
There won’t be anything resembling a championship in Chicago from 2015. The year 1945 is still the last time the Cubs were National League champions, while 1908 is still the last time the Cubs actually won the World Series.

THE CUBS LOST their fourth game of a seven-game series on Wednesday, and bringing the cinematic images of Marty McFly and Henry Rowengardner to the ballpark didn’t do a thing to add to the Wrigley Field aura.

Although perhaps it is good that there wasn’t a single person who could be the goat – no Leon Durham a la 1984 or Steve Bartman of 2003. In short, the reason the Cubs lost to the Mets after being up on the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals is because the Mets played better this week.

So now, the Cubs have another reason to think of the Mets as a ball club they detest. And not just because everybody enjoys a chance to dump on Noo Yawk any chance they get.

The Cubs lost to the Mets, and there wasn’t any black cat a la 1969 to blame! The New York Post won’t have to take back its front page from Saturday.
 
Still the ultimate goat
NOW AS I have written before, I’m an American League fan – kind of pulling for Toronto to come from behind to beat Kansas City, and whoever wins there to whomp all over the Mets.

Just think, a World Series between the U.S.’ largest city and that of Canada. It almost sounds like the real thing.

Personally, I think Cubs fans ought to be pleased. Because their favorite ball club outperformed significantly what any fan had any right to expect from 2015. Who knows? It may even be one of those years that develops experience that pays off in 2016 or ’17.
 
How long until Cubbiedom forgives him?
A World Series title then could make the stink of Wednesday wither away eventually.

THEN AGAIN, YOU never know what can occur. Let’s not forget the 1993 Chicago White Sox team that came close to an American League pennant and had many people convinced that ’94 was THE year!

I’m not saying we’re going to see a strike come ’16, but who knows what could go wrong.

If we want a local angle, perhaps we can root for hometown boy Curtis Granderson (of the University of Illinois at Chicago and T.F. South High School in suburban Lansing) to keep playing as well in the series as he did against the Cubs.

Although I wonder how many Cubs fans will be big enough to make that leap. Somehow, I doubt there will be many. Probably about as few as those Cubs enthusiasts who actually rooted for the White Sox back in 2005 when they gave Chicago a World Series victory in our lifetimes.
 
Cubs, or ...
SO NOW BASEBALL is over in Chicago. Although we still have the World Series, beginning Oct. 27 and running at least through Halloween and potentially through Nov. 4. Way too close to Thanksgiving for my comfort level.

... twins?
Which may be the big drawback to all the rounds of playoffs that allowed a third-place Chicago Cubs team to even qualify for postseason baseball this year – November ought to be for “hot stove” talk speculating about the future, not watching ballplayers enduring the chill of autumn wearing those hoods that make them look like refugees from the Blue Man Group.

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Nearly four decades later, we’re still stuck with ‘Star Wars’ It could be worse; we could have an aging ‘Bandit’

I wasn’t amongst the people who felt compelled to watch Monday night’s football game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

For one thing, I have never thought much of football. For another, the half-time presentation of the film trailer for the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel wasn’t enough to overcome my personal apathy for “Monday Night Football.”

ALTHOUGH I DO wonder if my apathy for the “Star Wars” franchise is even more intense than that of professional football (whose cheerleaders look downright trampy compared to the ladies who dance on behalf of college football squads).

So I’m not amongst the people who felt compelled to watch the game so they could see the trailer for what ought to be referred to as Star Wars VII – put the roman numerals on it to make it feel like a Super Bowl-type event.

I did check out the trailer on Tuesday just out of curiosity, and couldn’t help but notice how old Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher looked.

Particularly since I’m old enough to have seen the original “Star Wars” when it came out in movie theaters.

I REMEMBER THINKING it was a cute film. A few moments worth seeing. The scene in the cantina with all sorts of living creatures from across the galaxy was amusing enough that I suspect I’d still remember it even if “Star Wars” had flopped and never resulted in a single sequel.

I’ll admit the initial sequel (which I was in high school when it came out) was mildly amusing. But the next sequel felt more like a toy commercial – just think of all the different action figures that could now be sold, and those cutesy ewoks?

I thought they were silly then, and think that Wal-mart commercial now is tacky for showing us a modern-day day doing the ewok dance with his daughter – as a sign of how “Star Wars” has so thoroughly permeated our pop culture.

It makes me think I would have detested that dad when I was a kid. I do remember thinking the film was not as big a deal as all my junior high counterparts did when it originally came out.

BUT A LARGE part of why I have come to detest the “Star Wars” franchise is the next round of three films – which just struck me as a way for George Lucas to show off his technical skills and see how many space creatures could he digitally insert?

Almost as though the real-life acting that takes place in a “Star Wars” film doesn’t matter one bit. And forget about the writing!

It is the reason I didn’t feel compelled to see the most recent film ever – and certainly don’t think I’ll rush right out on Dec. 19 to see the newest sequel. Which strikes me as more of an attempt to leach a few moments out of the old “Star Wars” characters before they die off (Ford is now 73).

So the idea that anybody tuned in to watch Monday Night Football just to catch a film trailer? It strikes me as weak as those who watch the Super Bowl just to watch all the commercials!

BUT I’LL ALSO concede that the masses feel differently. There was something about the “Star Wars” franchise that has caught the public imagination in a way that another big hit film from 1977 did not.

After all, there may have been a couple of “Smokey and the Bandit” sequels, but I can’t envision anyone seriously thinking of dragging actor Burt Reynolds out of mothballs to make another such film today – even though I’m sure he’d jump for the chance.

Let alone the big award-winning hit film of 1977 – “Annie Hall,” which took Oscars for best film, best actress for Diane Keaton, and became the film that let director Woody Allen keep making many more films even after his public image became so creepy that the masses wish they could ignore him.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Maybe Thompson Center here to stay

Gov. Bruce Rauner made a big stink about wanting to unload the Thompson Center state government building in downtown Chicago, although it seems the deal is less of an inevitability than he’d like us to think.

Will it last to 50? Photo provided by State of Illinois
Because within a day of his announcement, Crain’s Chicago Business reported about the deal the state worked out a year ago with a company that handles the first two floors of the building – the ones with all those little stores.

IT SEEMS THAT deal has another 19 years to go, and buying those retail outlets out of their deal with the state would wind up being so excessively expensive. They alone may be reason to believe the building will make it to the half-century mark come the year 2035.

Now, the Capitol Fax newsletter reports that the General Assembly’s leaders – who would have to sign off on any deal to sell the structure – are rather noncommittal.

The legislative leaders say they’ll study it, in a tone that implies they want the questioner to go away and quit bringing up the issue. Not that such an attitude is a surprise; considering that the relations between Rauner and Democrats is so poor these days it wouldn’t surprise me if Dems rejected a sale just to spite him.

All of this goes counter to the notion that Rauner tried to imply when he made his announcement – that the deal was just a formality and we could see the demolition of the Thompson Center some time during 2016.

FAT CHANCE!!!

It seems like our governor still carries about the notion that government exists to follow his orders. Rather than realizing his executive branch is merely one-third of government, with the Legislature being another branch and the courts existing to rectify things when the Executive and Legislative manage to screw things up.

It won’t shock me if I’m still alive when the day comes that the Thompson Center does disappear – the city is constantly evolving. But perhaps by the time it does, the Rauner administration will be a long-forgotten memory of a time when things didn’t get done.

What else is notable these days on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan?

DO CUBS REALLY WANT TO BE ‘ROCKY?’: The Chicago Cubs lost the first two games in the round of playoffs against the New York Mets, but there are those who are convinced that the Tuesday, Wednesday and maybe Thursday games will change things drastically.

Will they wind up getting it right?
They’re expecting a return to Wrigley Field will result in victories for the Cubs. It goes so far that Cubs manager Joe Maddon had the theme from the film “Rocky” played following Sunday’s loss. Let’s not forget that Rocky Balboa lost the fight in the first film, but went on to win so many times in all those sequels.

Then again, the whole “Rocky” franchise became such a tacky joke by the end, devolving to the point where the final fight was a street brawl. Is that really what people want to see of the Cubs’ 2015 season?

Besides, such a scenario would remind me of the 2001 World Series – when the New York Yankees won games three, four and five at home after losing the first two games on the road. Except that the Arizona Diamondbacks rebounded by winning the final two games when they returned home. So the Cubs would still lose. “Let’s go, Mets?”

OOPS!: It seems there’s a Humboldt Park man who is trying to get out of the gang lifestyle. But a souvenir, so to speak, of those days wound up resulting in the death of his three-year-old son.

The Chicago Tribune reported that bond was set at $75,000 Sunday for Michael Santiago, whose six-year-old son used Santiago’s pistol to shoot and kill his other son – age 3.

Santiago told police he kept the pistol for self-protection from his former gang allies, and that his son saw the pistol atop the refrigerator Saturday night and fired it at the younger brother.

That resulted in the child endangerment charge being filed against the father – for keeping a loaded firearm in the home. Although it seems the grandfather says the surviving boy isn’t even aware of what he did, he thinks his brother is sick in the hospital.

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