Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wright issue overblown, but one Obama must confront on path to White House

Why is it that when conservative pundits gang up on the retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright for expressing the viewpoints of a segment of black America, their rhetoric is considered totally justified?

But when Wright uses a recent appearance before the National Press Club to defend himself (and actually makes a legitimate point about Vice President Dick Cheney’s lack of military service), the reverend gets accused of taking cheap shots.

COULD IT BE that the only people seriously offended by Wright’s views (which were expressed in the dialect common to many black-oriented churches in this country) are those people whose real hang-up is that he forces them to acknowledge that one of the legitimate candidates seeking the presidency is a black man?

Could it be that this country is being forced, against its will, to acknowledge its ugly racial past, of which some lingering tensions still exist?

What I find most ironic about all of this trash talk tying Wright to Barack Obama is that I can remember just a couple months ago when we, the people, of this glorious country, were giving serious credence to the concept that perhaps Obama “wasn’t black enough” and might not be able to take the black vote from opponent Hillary Clinton – whose husband, Bill, remains extremely popular among African-American people because he gives off the aura of a person who is willing to acknowledge their existence.

Sadly, that is what much of this all really comes down to.

PEOPLE WHO DO not want to hear about the racial situation and do not want to have it come up in this campaign are those who want to think of this country as some sort of Anglo-oriented place, where the ways derived from white people are the accepted norm – and others who just cannot or do not want to “fit in” to such a scheme are to be considered outsiders who ought to leave the country – even if they were born here.

Some people like to debate the concept of whether the United States is “ready” to elect a black man (or, for that matter, a bi-racial man such as Obama) as president.

By their way of thinking, time will cause the racial tensions of the past to ease to the point where some day we will be accepting of the concept that white America doesn’t hold some monopoly on the political sense necessary to oversee the operations of the United States government.

But if we wait for “them” to decide when the “time” has “arrived,” we might get a black U.S. president some time around the next millennium.

I HONESTLY BELIEVE there will be a black president of this country at some point in my lifetime (I’m 42 now). It may be Obama. It may be someone else.

But when that moment comes, we will have certain segments of U.S. society talking trash up through Election Day and beyond. They will claim “we’re” not ready (although I resent the thought of them including all of us in their “we”) for such a bold step.

The day the United States gets a black president is the day that the majority of the population comes to their senses and rams the concept down the throat of the vocal minority of the public that has a problem with the notion.

I honestly believe that the federal government in Washington will undergo something similar to what we in Chicago experienced during the mid-1980s. I’m talking about “Council Wars.”

PARTISAN LABELS WERE recast in racial terms, and a white majority of the council used its numbers to tie up many of the legislative desires of the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington. I could see a scenario in which a black president encounters an extremely outspoken Republican opposition, thereby giving rural Democrats (there are still a few) the courage to come out and publicly join ranks with the GOP in an ugly brawl that will be an embarrassment to this nation.

Suspecting that such a brawl would confront a “President Obama” (should he win on Nov. 4) is a large part of the reason why I do not get too upset about the nasty campaign tactics being used now by Hillary Clinton as she tries desperately to chip away at the significant lead Obama built up during that stretch a couple of months ago when he won 12 straight primary elections or caucuses.

We are best off seeing now how Obama will cope with ugliness, because it will give us a clue as to how a “President Obama” would address hostility coming from elements of our society who would go out of their way to think of him as some sort of “fraudulent” president – one more illegitimate than the most crazed liberal elements ever claimed George W. Bush to be.

If there is anything negative we can say about Obama, it is that he was naïve in the early days of the campaign when he tried claiming that his young age meant he was part of a generation that could ignore racial differences and could get us past the debate.

THAT DEBATE, AND ugly brawl, are something we will have to endure, because there is a good aspect to going through the mess.

Ultimately, seeing a black president (and realizing he will not drag this country down into an irreparable quagmire – if Bush couldn’t, no one can) in action is going to be what convinces the majority of us that a black man (or even a bi-racial one) can be president. Future African-American candidates will not have to deal with the same hostility, in part because Obama is taking the abuse now.

It is almost like John F. Kennedy, in a sense. Back some five decades ago, our society still thought of Catholics as some foreign element that had managed to overtake big cities, and had to be restrained from getting too much power in the federal government.

Now, a candidate’s Catholicism is a non-issue, and no one but the most ridiculous of racists would seriously try to claim that a Catholic president would take marching orders from the Pope.

WHEN I FIRST met Obama some 11 years ago, I realized he'd become somebody much more significant than a state legislator from Hyde Park. Ivy League-educated people with a social conscience and willingness to work at it usually do.

But I never thought he'd have the potential to become such a trailblazer. I wonder if he’s going to suffer in the same way Jackie Robinson did. Many people believe the stress of being “the first” black major league baseball player in modern times prematurely aged him – resulting in his death at age 52.

But to get there, we’re going to have to realize that a lot of the anti-Wright rhetoric being tossed out these days are not legitimate charges. They are desperate attempts by people with out-of-date racial hang-ups who are trying to thwart the concept of a black president.

We, the people (my favorite phrase from the Constitution) need to quit giving legitimacy to such charges, and allowing those people to set the agenda for political discussion. Only when we start doing that can we legitimately say our society is moving in the right direction towards putting its historic racial tensions truly in the past.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright did the D.C. scene ( as part of his attempt to fight back from some of the slanderous commentary that has been doled against him in recent weeks.

Wright built up his South Side church from 90 members into a congregation of thousands attracted (,8599,1735809,00.html) by his message that African-American people were as worthy as anyone else in our society.

An Israeli perspective on Wright and the race issue ( can be found here.

My recollections on the early days of Barack Obama’s career in electoral politics ( consist of a guy with a future, but not necessarily a political trailblazer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vallas re-run would be a mistake

Al Hofeld. Al Salvi. And on a national scale, H. Ross Perot.

All three men have one thing in common. They ran for a large-scale political office and came so close to winning that they thought they had found their future – only to learn that their near-victory was just a fluke.

COULD WE SOMEDAY be adding the name of Paul Vallas to that list?

It’s a possibility, since Vallas seems to have dreams of becoming Illinois governor, even though he lost the Democratic primary for that office in 2002.

Vallas, for those with short memories, is the former Chicago Public Schools chief who – after losing the primary to now-Gov. Rod Blagojevich – left the Second City to become head of the school system in Philadelphia, and now is trying to rebuild a school system in New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

But Vallas made some high-profile appearances in Chicago on Monday, where he did all the “wink, winking” and “nudge, nudging” possible to let people here know he’d like to move back to the Chicago area once his contract in New Orleans expires (he has one more year to go in Louisiana).

HE SPOKE TO a City Club of Chicago luncheon, then appeared at an evening program at Northwestern University’s school of continuing studies where he talked about the problems that confront public education – not just in New Orleans, but in Chicago and just about everywhere else in the country.

It allowed him to appear to be a more authoritative figure in his field of specialty than Blagojevich ever appears to be as governor of Illinois. It stirs up the thoughts of those people who voted for Vallas in ’02 that he could run in ’10 and could provide a sense of re-writing history so that the Blagojevich years “never happened.”

What stirs up those people is the fact that Vallas actually got more votes than Blagojevich in Chicago proper. It was only because of a large vote margin in the rural parts of Illinois that Blagojevich was able to win the primary, and even then by only a 21,000 vote margin statewide (which is the size of about half a ward in Chicago, or a small suburb).

Now of course, Vallas is being diplomatic at this point. After all, it is still two more years until the next gubernatorial primary. But he says his reading of the news clippings coming out of Chicago makes him see political people who are “frustrated and angered” with Blagojevich.

“I COULD HAVE made a difference, I would have gotten along with the Legislature a lot better,” Vallas told the gathering at the City Club.

Maybe he would have. Of course, Vallas would have run into the initial opposition that Blagojevich got – he is the first Democrat in 26 years to serve as Illinois governor, and rural Republicans had come to see the Executive Mansion in Springfield as their political domain.

But he might have been able to build up a stronger Chicago support in the Legislature, which would mean that the Statehouse Scene would really have become an “urban vs. rural” brawl.

But what is more important is to realize that we will never know what Vallas would have accomplished in a term or two as governor. He didn’t win the primary.

FOR THAT MATTER, he didn’t even win the vote majority in Chicago. The large African-American population in the city gave its support to Roland Burris’ gubernatorial primary, resulting in him winning the city as a whole. It was the white ethnic parts of Chicago that wanted Vallas (who is of Greek descent) over Blagojevich (a Serbian-American).

Those feelings would not automatically transfer through an eight-year time period. Too much time has passed, and Vallas is just another failed candidate.

Names such as Madigan (as in Lisa), Hynes and Jackson (as in Jesse Jr.) are the more credible considerations for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010 – provided, that is, that Blagojevich were to change his mind and decide not to seek a third term of running Illinois government from his home office in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago.

My gut feeling says a Vallas ’10 campaign would turn to be a let-down, as he would never capture the sentiment that nearly saw him win the Democratic primary in ’02. The sooner he realizes that he had his chance, it didn’t happen, and he needs to move on with his life, the better off we Illinoisans all will be.

THAT’S WHY I bring up the names of Hofeld, Salvi and Perot. I suppose one could also throw Al Gore’s name into the mix, but thus far he has had the sense not to talk about running yet another campaign for president in this year’s elections.

Hofeld was the Chicago attorney with no prior electoral experience who ran for U.S. Senate in 1992 against incumbent Alan Dixon. He lost, but took enough support away from Dixon that Carol Moseley-Braun won that primary, and went on to win a six-year term in the Senate.

He took that notion of stealing support away from Dixon as evidence that he was qualified for political office and he got the Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general – where he got beaten so badly by Republican Jim Ryan that he ended his dreams of winning electoral office.

Salvi got the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1996 and was at the top of the ticket for Illinois Republican voters. Unfortunately for him, opponent Richard Durbin successfully tagged him as some sort of right wing nut, and his presence on the ballot helped Illinois Republicans recover from the devastating losses of 1994 – when the GOP took control of the Legislature and all six state constitutional offices.

SALVI TRIED AGAIN in 1998, and wound up losing the Illinois secretary of state race to Jesse White. He has kept his own political ambitions in check, although his wife made a bid for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Then, there’s Perot, whose campaign for president in 1992 caught the imagination of people who didn’t want George Bush the elder but whose conservative beliefs would keep them from ever casting ballots for a Democrat.

He didn’t win any electoral votes, but took 19 percent of the vote overall – a tremendous figure for a third-party campaign. His follow-up bid for president in 1996 didn’t even come close to that level – and political people haven’t heard much from H. Ross since then.

THERE IS ONE thing Salvi, Hofeld and Perot had in common – they all had significant personal wealth. They were able to pump significant amounts of cash into their own campaigns so as to ensure they could run competitively against opponents who were preferred by the party establishment.

That is one characteristic Vallas does not share. He had to struggle to pay off the debt from his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, and while he is earning a nice salary from his professional positions with various school boards, he is somebody who has to work for a living.

He doesn’t have the kind of money to pay for a credible campaign without outside donations. That could be the factor that spares us from adding to the list of political failures the name of “Vallas.”


EDITOR’S NOTES: Paul Vallas wants ( to come back home.

How good a job is Paul Vallas doing in Louisiana? The New Orleans-based Times Picayune ( offers its perspective.

Al Hofeld’s campaign activities these days are limited ( to writing out checks for political donations.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Adultery! Lesbians! Tawdry sex! Oh wait, this is the Dem presidential campaign

What do Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise have in common these days?

Both of the Hollywood celebs likely would have been the cover boys of the supermarket tabloids this week, if not for the ongoing antics of the Democratic presidential campaign.

THAT’S RIGHT. BARACK Obama and Hillary Clinton both managed to knock Swayze and Cruise off of the main story on page one, and up into a little box that tells people they have to go inside to find out more about Swayze’s loss of his wife and Cruise’s religion that allegedly brainwashes people.

Of course, nobody who reads the National Enquirer or Globe magazine really cares all that much about what the candidates think of the North American Free Trade Agreement or how the two think they can provide adequate healthcare for all U.S. residents.

It took titillating tales of tawdry sex to get either of those publications the least bit interested in the political brawl that will come to a head the end of August in Denver.

Hence, when I went to the supermarket on Sunday to pick up a few stray items, I got to see the new front pages of the issues dated May 5, 2008, which want us to respond to headlines of “OBAMA MARRIAGE EXPLODES: Wife confronts him with cheating” and “HILLARY GAY LOVE SCANDAL.”

NOW BEFORE YOU read any further, the answer is, “no.”

I did not plunk down my money for either publication, although I did "throw down" $5 for a New York Times. I didn’t read the Enquirer or Globe stories, so I don’t know exactly what the substance of their allegations are for either candidate.

For those of you who are now determined to use the Internet to check it out for free, it won’t work. The Globe merely put a three-sentence synopsis of their story on their web site, which told me enough in and of itself that the story in print is likely a load of trash meant to spew the view that Hillary is not a respectable person by the viewpoint of certain social conservative elements.

The brief seemed to make much of the fact that the so-called lover is a Muslim, albeit one born in the United States. I would guess the people who fed this story to the Globe are the same types who continuously let us know that Obama’s middle name is Hussein. They want us to think the only way we can get a “real American” in the White House is to vote for John McCain, since their preferred candidate, Mike Huckabee, couldn’t even last through the primary season.

BESIDES, THE STORIES of Hillary Clinton’s sexual orientation have always been spewed in political circles, usually from people of the conservative viewpoint that a real woman would be content to stay at home in a supportive role of her husband.

In fact, at one point or another, I have heard people try to convince me that just about every woman in politics is gay. The charge itself has little credibility, or relevance.

The Enquirer didn’t even go so far as to put their Obama story on their website. Anybody who goes there is going to get big pictures of Jennifer Aniston looking as adorable as ever, while also getting to read the latest trivial details about Jimmy Fallon and Orenthal J. Simpson.

So I don’t know the specifics about Obama’s alleged infidelity, although it would not surprise me to learn that it is some insignificant tidbit being distorted into a “shocking scandal.”

When it comes to political people and infidelity, I have been around enough to know that it happens. But I also know that some people don’t have it in their mental makeup to engage in adultery, and I don’t believe the percentage of philanderers is any higher among politicians than it is any other type of professional person.

I ALSO REMEMBER from my days covering the Illinois Statehouse scene that there were certain political people that I know for a fact were having sex outside of marriage, or were engaging in intercourse with whoever happened to be available that night.

But the one legislator who I know for a fact was a skirt-chaser (he’s no longer in the Legislature, but is still in politics) gets a break from me because he was not married at the time. Insofar as I know, his days of hooking up with cocktail waitresses and legislative aides (all of whom were of legal age) ended when he got married.

Obama was not among those with a reputation for having a “Springfield wife” (the modern-day Statehouse phrase for having a girlfriend in the capital city and a wife back home). In fact, the closest thing I remember to a sordid detail about Obama from back then was that he liked to play poker.

In fact, it was those late-night poker games with his fellow legislators that enabled him to develop ties to both Democrats and Republicans, including Kirk Dillard, the one-time aide to GOP governors James R. Thompson and Jim Edgar who now has many Republicans offended because of his outspoken support of Obama.

SO IF THE Enquirer had come up with a story that claimed Obama to be a degenerate gambler who owed thousands of dollars in debts, perhaps some to lobbyists and other interests that might then pressure him as president to commit certain acts of favoritism – that story I would have an easier time believing than one that Obama is committing adultery.

But even so, a claim of adultery really isn’t of much concern to anyone – except Michelle Obama. I’m willing to trust her reaction to this whole situation in determining just how seriously (if at all) I should take this story.

In one respect, we ought to consider ourselves lucky. It took until May of a campaign election season for the supermarket tabloids to get themselves involved in peddling salacious details of the presidential candidates.

As I recall, it was late February of 1992 when the Star was fed by conservative operatives recordings off of Gennifer Flowers’ answering machine to imply that the two were having a long-standing sexual affair.

EVER SINCE THEN, the supermarket rags (even though the Tommy Lee Jones character in the film “Men in Black” told us that they provide “the best investigative reporting on the planet”) have taken to trying to come up with titillating details about the politicos.

What interests me the most about this twin-billing of “political” reporting is that it would appear the rags are taking on a partisan tone.

Is the National Enquirer now the paper out to get the Obama campaign? Should Barack backers take to reading the Globe for their load of celebrity gossip? It was earlier this year that the Enquirer ran the story, “Obama’s secrets. His close friendship with terrorist.”

What it was, was the Enquirer telling us about Obama’s Hyde Park neighbor, Bill Ayers. I don’t know that “close friendship” is the most accurate description of their tie. It wasn’t a secret. And the only people who absolutely insist on pushing the “terrorist” label (“idiotic” is more accurate) to Ayers are the ones who just can’t stand that history has shown the anti-war crowd to be correct in its view about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

THE OTHER ASPECT of these stories that intrigues me is their lack of inclusion for John McCain.

McCain fans will claim it is because their guy is “too respectable” to do anything that would draw the attention of the supermarket rags.

I’d argue it is because his campaign is too uninteresting to gain their attention, and their editors realize that putting a McCain story on Page One (it doesn’t have to be true, or even based in reality) would flop in sales at the supermarket newsracks across the nation.

That lack of interest from anyone beyond the hard-core partisans who would vote for anyone bearing the “R” (for Republican) after his name is why the winner of Obama/Clinton has to be considered the favorite to win come Nov. 4 – regardless of how badly they bloody each other up in the primary season.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Gennifer Flowers ( may cast her vote for Hillary Clinton, even though she too has peddled the stories about Clinton’s ( sexual orientation.

Here is the Globe’s summary ( about their paper’s attempt to put themselves into the history of Campaign ’08.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What's wrong with minding one's own business, rather than somebody else's?

So on a day when students at high schools across the United States tried to show their support for gay people being treated like everybody else by staying silent, one student in the outermost Chicago suburbs was happy that he got to speak out against them.

That was the case at Neuqua Valley High School, where the federal appeals court for the Chicago area ruled earlier this week that Alex Nuxoll could wear his t-shirt to school – the one that reads, “Be Happy, Not Gay.”

NUXOLL, WHOSE PARENTS and other ideological supporters filed a lawsuit on his behalf after school officials banned the t-shirt on the grounds it was “derogatory” and “demeaning,” does not care for the fact that his high school is one of about 7,400 schools across the country partaking in the Day of Silence – an event that is supposed to promote the concept that gay people in our society are forced to keep their perspectives to themselves in order to avoid harassment.

Students in theory go through an entire day without saying a word, and some will go so far as to hand out pre-printed cards that detail harassment against gay people.

So Nuxoll wanted to wear his t-shirt on Friday, and again on Monday, when a ‘Day of Truth’ is scheduled, according to the Daily Herald newspaper of Arlington Heights.

Students partaking in the Day of Silence handed out cards such as these to explain their lack of speech. Illustration provided by Day of Silence Project.

The appeals court’s order is valid until larger issues in the lawsuit are resolved, which could be later this year. Their lawsuit has the support (emotional and financial) from the Memphis, Tenn.-based Alliance Defense Fund, which means this fight will go the full 15 rounds – so to speak.

ATTORNEYS FOR THE alliance say they are pleased with this week’s ruling, seeing it as a sign they may prevail in their larger goal – which is to give legitimacy to someone who wants to dump on gay people.

This case isn’t just about a kid wanting to wear a t-shirt. Anybody who tries to portray it as such is trying to dodge the real issue – which is whether people have a right to pick on others because of sexual orientation.

I have always been of the belief that I have enough problems with my own (admittedly miniscule, these days) sex life, without having to worry about anyone else’s. I can’t help but see anyone trying to speak out against such gay rights measures as being someone who wants to butt into someone else’s business.

Or how does that old saying go – “He doesn’t have any business of his own to mind, so he has to mind everybody else’s.”

OF COURSE, THE court ruling this week has the social conservatives all excited that someone is finally willing to let one of their own “speak his mind,” even though from my perspective, we hear all too much of their viewpoint.

These people want to argue that a victory for free speech was won this week when a student was allowed to wear his t-shirt. After all, their viewpoint must be heard too, and any attempt to point out errors in their way of thinking amounts to censorship.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that theory.

What an event like a ‘Day of Silence’ is about is a symbolic gesture against harassment of people. It’s a bit simplistic to say that anyone speaking out against such an event is for harassment.

BUT IT’S NOT totally erroneous either.

Whenever people complain about measures meant to protect gay people by claiming they are being given special privileges, it comes off too much like they believe gay people are entitled to be harassed.

Either that, or their own lives are so wretched they are looking for someone they can place beneath themselves on the societal pecking order so they can harass someone too.

That is the message that comes from someone who wants to wear a t-shirt reading, “Be Happy, Not Gay.”

IF ANYTHING, THE student wearing such a shirt is trying to disrupt an event promoting equality, which is why I find it ridiculous that Illinois Family Institute officials (in a statement denouncing the very concept of a ‘Day of Silence’) claimed the event would disrupt the school day.

Personally, the thought of students keeping quiet for just a day sounds like every teacher’s fantasy work day come true. Students engaged in personal reflection on a societal issue, rather than babbling on about the latest teenage trivia, has the potential to be an educational experience.

Now this may be a free country where people are allowed to think what they want. I will concede your legal right to wear such a slogan on your t-shirt. But one needs to consider that what is legally permissible is not always the smartest thing to do. In this case, wearing such a t-shirt on a day of contemplation of gay rights is little more than rude.

Also, this being the United States of America – the land of the free and home of the brave and such a wonderful country – I have the equal right to think you are a nitwit for wearing such a shirt and thinking such a thought.

FREE SPEECH IS for everybody, and students who partook in Friday’s ‘Day of Silence’ events were merely presenting a thought – even though it is the ultimate in irony to present their viewpoint by saying nothing all day.

If by chance, you try to retort that such a thought ought not to be expressed (which is the tone I detect in the Illinois Family Institute statement and in comments from similar groups), then all I have to say is that your attempt to restrict a thought is just wrong.

Dare I say, it’s un-American.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Students across the United States said nothing to show their support for equal treatment for all (, putting a special emphasis this year on a Feb. 12 incident in California where a teenager were brutally beaten for his sexual orientation.

Opposing groups are trying to coordinate their own ‘Day of Truth’ for Monday so as to counter ( Friday’s activity.

Such dueling statements may very well be a part of The American Way, but some Australians ( think we’re a batch of nitwits for getting into these dueling days over the issue.

Alex Nuxoll got to wear ( his t-shirt to school, after all. I can remember when the most controversial t-shirt to be seen in a school was one with that ‘never classic’ saying, “If I said you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?”

Friday, April 25, 2008

So. Ill. interstate (finally) gets a name

This observation comes from someone who has driven automobiles from the Illinois/Wisconsin border to just north of that point where Illinois becomes one with Kentucky and Missouri – we in Chicago put names on our interstate highways, while the rest of the state seems content to think of their roads by numbers.

What we call the Stevenson Expressway is what the rest of Illinois prefers to think of as Interstate 55, while Interstate 90 gets called the Jane Addams Highway or the Kennedy Expressway, depending on whether one is south or north of downtown Chicago.

INTERSTATE 94 CAN be more confusing, because many Chicago residents don’t think of it as a single road. Depending on which portion of I-94 one is on, the road is the Edens expressway, the Tri-State Tollway or the Bishop Ford freeway.

The Dan Ryan Expressway is unique, since it comprises both I-94 and I-90.

Of course, one shouldn’t think of Chicago expressways in purely Democratic (or urban) terms. Former presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan are the two Republican recipients of Chicago-area expressways (Interstate 290 and Interstate 88, respectively) named in their honor.

In fact, about the only portion of an interstate highway in Illinois outside of the Chicago area that is named for a human being is that portion of Interstate 70 near East St. Louis known as the McGwire Expressway in honor of the former St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger whose “historic” home run achievement of 1998 only lasted as a record for four years.

Ken Gray, here seen in 1974 with his congressional colleague-turned-president, Gerald Ford, was from an era when representatives boasted of the large amounts of federal money they brought back to their home districts. Now, they get derided for swimming in "pork." Photograph provided by

WHICH IS WHY I think it is about time that a downstate Illinois portion of an interstate highway gets a politico’s name attached to it.

Ken Gray, the longtime member of Congress from Southern Illinois, gets the honor of being the first.

He is going to have the portion of Interstate 57 that passes through Mount Vernon (about 240 miles south of Chicago, or 150 miles east of St. Louis at the site of the 200-foot-high Christian cross that looms over the interstate) named in his honor. It is not far from his hometown of West Frankfort.

Gray gets the honor in part because he was one of the members of Congress back in 1956 when Eisenhower signed into law the measure that created the concept of interstate highways – and significantly altering the life perspective of people who grew up in towns along U.S. Route 66 (Chicago to Los Angeles) and the Lincoln Highway (New York to San Francisco, passing through Chicago Heights, Ill.).

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS’ POLITICAL observers this week were digging up the old Kenny Gray stories about how he forced Interstate 57 (Chicago to Memphis, then down to New Orleans) to cut through his home region – by threatening to withhold his needed vote for construction of the entire interstate highway system.

Now to some people, that story is everything that is wrong with government today – a political official having a snit fit until a road is built through his community at taxpayer expense. They would take offense at the notion that during 24 years in Congress, Gray was proud to say he brought back $7 billion worth of federal projects to his home district.

But do people really believe the region of Southern Illinois (the portion of the state that lies below Interstate 70) would be better off if there weren’t major highways connecting the region to Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis?

I have driven on some of those rural highways of Southern Illinois, and on a couple of occasions, I have done it in the dark. One of the most terrifying road moments I ever experienced was trying to find the town of Tamms (located 12 miles north of Illinois’ southernmost tip) and winding up in the woods on a rural road (unnamed or numbered, as far as I can tell) just north of Anna. The road that led me to that point apparently used to be fairly common in that region, until the coming of the interstates.

THERE’S ONE PART of the renaming of the interstate portion for Kenny Gray that I find ironic – that it will alter a portion of Interstate 57.

That is the one interstate of the Chicago area that does not have a name of some now-forgotten personage attached to it.

So the one road that Chicago people think of as a number is now the one road that (at least some) downstate residents will think of as a name.

I can already hear the grumbling from Southern Illinois residents whenever they hear a Chicagoan in the future talk about “I-57” – “why can’t those dummies call it the Gray Expressway the way we do,” they’ll say, similar to the way we complain about “half-wit downstaters” who insist on calling it I-55, rather than by its proper name honoring Adlai E., the second.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a breakdown on all of the interstate highways that pass through Chicago ( and help the city maintain its image as the transportation crossroads of the United States.

Ken Gray’s official biography ( as a former member of Congress.

Long-haul truck drivers ( already are taking note of the I-57 name change.

Will Todd Stroger get I-57 some day?

For those who are curious about every form of trivia, the namesakes of Chicago’s expressways are as follows:

Jane Addams – First U.S. woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and founder (left) of Chicago’s Hull House, the site of which takes up land that the University of Illinois at Chicago wishes it could change into something more commercial, but doesn’t dare.

William G. Edens – A banker who sponsored Illinois’ first highway bond issue in 1918. Without him, we might still be driving around on dirt or gravel roads.

Dwight Eisenhower – The former general who “won” the Second World War and the president who signed into law the measure creating all interstate highways, which means he had to get something named after him.

Bishop L.F. Ford – Former presiding bishop (left) of the Church of God in Christ on the South Side. With more than 8.5 million members, he qualifies for membership in the Road Namesake Club.

John F. Kennedy – The former U.S. president who conservatives are still convinced only won because Mayor Richard J. Daley turned out the vote in Chicago’s “river precincts.”

Ronald Reagan – Former U.S. president who was born in Dixon, Ill., and attended college in Eureka, before ditching Illinois for a life in California.

Dan Ryan – Former president of the Cook County Board. I wonder what current president Todd Stroger will get named for him someday – we still have the Chicago portion of I-57 nameless.

Adlai E. Stevenson II – The attorney from Bloomington (right) who served as Illinois’ governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but is mostly remembered for getting his butt kicked twice by Ike.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hoosier politico mingles with “Ill. Nazis”

When it comes to Chicago and the Nazi Party, some people will remember the existence of Frank Collin – the self-styled fuhrer who wanted to intimidate Jewish Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Ill., but turned out to have Jewish parents.

To other people, the concept of “Illinois Nazis” is a cinematic punch-line, dating back 28 years to the release of “The Blues Brothers,” when Jake Blues (John Belushi), halted in traffic by a Nazi rally in Jackson Park, tells us, “I hate Illinois Nazis.”

HIS BROTHER, ELWOOD (Dan Ackroyd), then drove his former Mount Prospect police car directly into the rally, causing a batch of would-be brown shirts to dive for safety off the Music Court Bridge.

Yet when Indiana attorney Tony Zirkle sees Illinois Nazis, he sees a batch of potential voters – even though he is running for a political post in another state, so most likely, none of the people he spoke to could vote for him.

Specifically, Zirkle is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress from the northwestern Indiana district that stretches from Valparaiso to South Bend. He spent his Sunday speaking at a celebration hosted by the American National Socialist Workers Party in our very own otherwise wonderful city.

The group gathered in Chicago to celebrate with cake and martial music the 119th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler – the founder of National Socialism and the man who turned the swastika from a symbol of life, strength and good luck to one of racial and religious hatred the world over.

NOW LET ME make one point very clear (I don’t want an attorney thinking he can successfully sue me). I am not claiming Zirkle is a Nazi, a Neo-Nazi, a nutsie, a white supremacist, a Holocaust denier or any other blatant kind of bigot.

I’m willing to take him at his word that he saw the event as just another chance to talk to people who were willing to listen to him. “I’ll speak before any group that invites me,” Zirkle was quoted as saying by the Munster, Ind.-based Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper.

Of course, he went on to elaborate that he would speak to “anyone” by saying he also had been interviewed by African-American-oriented radio stations in Atlanta, Ga., as though black people and Nazi sympathizers are somehow equally out of the mainstream of the United States culture.

It just makes me question his political judgment that he literally sees no difference between the two groups. This moment truly puts him into the category of fringe candidates.

NOW I’M NOT saying that candidates seeking office ought to be snobbish about where they appear to try to get votes. Any worthwhile political candidate is going to encounter groups of people who appear (to him) to be odd. The true political professional realizes that not everybody is like him (or her).

I still recall a Dave Barry-written column about a wacky event he once attended and where former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar also appeared, mistakenly thinking it was some sort of civic group gathering. As Barry put it, Edgar was in danger at one point of having his photograph taken with a man wearing a helmet with a rubber sex toy protruding from its head.

Edgar got out. Why Zirkle couldn’t take one look at the swastika banners and photographs of Hitler hanging from the walls and realize how despicable he would look having his picture taken at a podium with a photograph of der fuhrer watching over his shoulder is a mystery.

The cake was particularly “cute,” with the icing spelling out “seig heil” and Hitler’s picture in icing looking up at people.

IT’S A GOOD thing that Zirkle is most likely a fringe candidate in this race, since the reason the white supremacist group wanted Zirkle to speak before them was because of his interest in the issue of white women being used for pornography and prostitution (as though other women being used for such purposes is not a problem).

He tried running for Congress two years ago, and actually got 30 percent of the vote in the Republican primary against the guy who eventually went on to lose the general election to Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.

But Zirkle tells reporter-types that his goal in running for office is to “educate and inform,” even though his past comments have included statements calling the United States’ attempts at desegregation a failure.

Most of the time, however, Zirkle focuses his attention on pornography, getting worked up over sexual images that he fears are dragging this country into a cultural pit.

IT REALLY IS hard for me to understand why Zirkle would cross State Line Road to solicit votes for a northwest Indiana congressional campaign (the primary is in less than two weeks). Some of the members might live there, but I would guess they are a batch scattered from across the Midwestern U.S., and a National Socialist-affiliated website described the gathering as 56 people from the Chicago area.

Even so, it is not like the National Socialist lobby has been an effective voter bloc.

I still remember the countless campaigns of Art Jones, the white racialist activist who as a youth wore the swastika armband and proclaimed himself to be a Nazi, and in fact was also in attendance at the same Hitler birthday bash for which Zirkle is being derided.

EVEN JONES (WHO himself ran a failed campaign for an Illinois congressional district in the Feb. 5 primary) has given up on Nazis, but not because his views on supremacy of white people have changed through the years.

Back when I was a reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, I once asked Jones point blank if he was still affiliated with the Nazis. “No,” Jones told me then. “Those people are idiots who can’t get themselves organized to do anything right.”

Jones “got it” decades ago. I wonder if Zirkle will “get it” any time soon, or if he’s going to go on a rant about “the media” being biased against him?


EDITOR’S NOTES: This Crown Point, Ind., attorney helped a batch of “Illinois Nazis” celebrate the 119th anniversary of der Fuhrer’s birth (, thinking it would help promote his congressional campaign. I couldn’t help but notice he did NOT include the appearance on his published schedule of campaign-related activities.

Apparently, Tony Zirkle never learned that “Nazi” is the acronym in German ( for “National Socialist.”

Shredding Marilyn Monroe in all her glory? Zirkle thinks he is promoting the concept ( of men having sex with their wives.

Art Jones of Chicago may not be a Nazi any longer. But his campaign rhetoric ( still manages to offend many of the people who find white supremacy most objectionable, particularly when it comes to immigration reform.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's way too early to think 'City Series'

Major League Baseball’s scheduling practices occasionally result in some quirks – such as the way the White Sox and Cubs schedules match up this week.

New York is coming to Chicago to play our city’s team. That statement is true, regardless of whether one is talking about the American or National leagues.

THE YANKEES ARE in town through Thursday to play a three-game series against the White Sox – a series that always results in larger-than-usual crowds since the ball club that personifies New York swagger has come to town.

Meanwhile, the Mets came on Monday and will be here through Wednesday to smack the Cubs around (although, somehow, the Cubs managed to fluke their way to a victory Monday night).

This kind of scheduling is unusual because the powers that be who put together 162-game seasons for each of the 30 major league teams usually try to have it so that the cities with two ball clubs (New York and Los Angeles, in addition to Chicago) have one team playing at home while the other is in another city.

A 'shot' of the crowd at the South Side Grounds attending Game 6 of the 1906 World Series - the day that the White Sox got the ultimate one-upmanship on the Cubs. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

To have them both playing on the same day in Chicago is an event that usually happens maybe once or twice per season. But to have them both at home simultaneously to play series against the mighty ball clubs from Gotham? That is probably something we’ll never see again.

One could literally on Tuesday and Wednesday root against the hated New Yorkers (even though some Manhattan snobs would argue that, as the ball club from Queens, the Mets really don’t count) twice in one day – traveling from the North Side day game to the South Side for the superior matchup.

JUST ONE THING – don’t behave like that Cubs fan fool a few years ago who got liquored up during the day at Wrigley Field, then came south and acted like a buffoon by charging the umpire while watching the evening Sox game.

The New York-Chicago baseball doubleheader got me to thinking, though, about the possibility of having two contending ball clubs in Chicago.

Such a concept is not unheard of in New York. I’m sure there are some baseball fans in that city who fully expect the World Series this year to be a New York Yankees victory over the Mets – the first “’subway series” since 2000 and one of more than a dozen that have been played during the century that the American and National league champions have deigned to play each other at the end of the season.

But as of now, Chicago is the city with ball clubs at the top of the standings in their respective divisions.

DON’T GET ME wrong. I realize it is ridiculously early to be thinking about 2008 being the year of the “el series” (or would we call it the Red Line series, in honor of the Chicago Transit Authority line that connects the two stadiums?). Personally, I don’t pay serious attention to baseball standings until Memorial Day.

By then, the fact that both Chicago ball clubs were once on top of their divisions could be a long-forgotten memory.

But one has to admit the White Sox are going a long way toward showing the world of baseball geeks that 2007 (with its 72 victories) was an aberration. The White Sox of the 2000s (the current decade) are a team with consistent winning records and two (thus far) first place finishes.

My mind is starting to run amok at the thought of a third first-place finish in this decade (which would have to be either this year or next). But with John Danks showing that he has the potential to be the worthy starting pitcher that White Sox officials always expected (and that general manager Ken Williams wasn’t stupid for acquiring him a few years ago) and Jim Thome showing he can still hit (even at the advanced – by baseball standards – age of 37), this is going to be a very interesting year on the South Side.

FOR AWHILE, THE White Sox had the best record in the American League. Now, they’re just the best in their division, against four other ball clubs all of which have losing records. I don’t expect that situation to continue for the remainder of the season.

But I could see 2008 becoming a season-long Chicago-Cleveland brawl to win their respective division, then meeting up against the division winners of the east and west and a wild card team.

Who knows, it could very well be the Yankees that the White Sox meet up with in the playoffs – which would literally have baseball commentators looking back on this early April series (the only time the two teams will meet in Chicago, they will play a three-game series in New York Sept. 15-17) for some sort of clue as to which team will prevail to win the American League pennant.

Of course, the Sox could also fizzle out in June and turn this into a fairly forgettable year, much as I expect the Cubs to do at some point in mid-season. It’s probably fair to say that both ball clubs have just enough weaknesses to prevent them from being considered legitimate contenders (and I don’t want to hear about how the Cubs play in a weak division – ‘contenders by default’ is just lame).

SO ALTHOUGH I might want to dream of the 2008 World Series giving us an encore to the 1906 version, my serious thoughts about baseball these days focus on three questions – if anybody can answer them for me, I want to know:

--What is up with White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle? He doesn’t appear to be throwing the ball all that bad, but seems to have some of the lousiest luck when it comes to getting run support or just losing it at the most inopportune moments. I only hope this isn’t like his past lousy-luck slumps of 2003 and 2006 when he managed to go for a couple of months at a time without a victory.

--Why does anybody think it is cute that those goofs who make a living selling unauthorized t-shirts and other junk around Wrigley Field are taking to selling shirts that purportedly feed off the aura provided by Japanese star ballplayer Kosuke Fukudome? But their idea of a “tribute” is to mock the “Holy Cow” saying of late broadcaster Harry Caray with Japanese-type characters and a baseball with slants for eyes. I’d like to think Cubs fans have too much sense to actually wear something like that. But then again, I’d like to think people are too intelligent to root for something as historically pathetic as the Chicago Cubs – I’d be wrong.

--Why did the Toronto Blue Jays really release aging former White Sox star Frank Thomas? The man can still swing a bat, and his past two seasons have shown him to get off to slow starts in April, only to get better and turn into a virtual hitting machine when the weather warms up. Does Toronto merely want to get out of having to give Thomas a hefty raise for 2009 if he were to get a minimum number of at-bats? If it really is the case, then we know for sure why the Blue Jays are the perpetual runner-up in the east division behind New York and the Boston Red Sox. I don’t expect the White Sox to make a bid for Thomas (there’s no room on the team for him), but I do expect him to wind up somewhere this year as an impact player.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago baseball’s best pitcher of this decade ( is off to a slow start this season.

I don’t mean to rub it in, but I don’t recall anything even remotely close to this being sold (,CST-SPT-gordo18.article) in Chicago when Shingo Takatsu or Tadahito Iguchi played on the South Side.

One-time White Sox star (and eventual Hall of Fame member) Frank Thomas is looking (,1,6288243.column) for work these days.

It is still kind of early in the year to be seriously talking about ( an “el Series” (Sox vs. Cubs in the World Series). Besides, would it really be fair to put Cubs fans through the trauma of having a sequel to the only other time ( the two teams met in the World Series?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I know I'm not the only Chicagoan who didn't feel the earth move under my feet

This is starting to feel absurd.

The strongest earthquake to hit the Midwestern U.S. in decades, one that was felt across a multi-state region and which has generated at least 22 aftershocks (including two this morning) – and I have yet to feel a thing.

THE FUNNY PART of this is, I’m not alone. A scan through the Internet will encounter many weblogs with entries written by people who feel the need to acknowledge that an earthquake has occurred – even though they have no first-hand stories to tell.

There also are other anecdotes floating around out there about people whose only reaction to hearing the word “earthquake” is to scrunch their face in bewilderment and say, “huh?”

My favorite appeared in the Post-Gazette newspaper of Pittsburgh, where the baseball writer surveyed the Pirates (who happened to be in Chicago at the time to play a series against the Cubs) to get their reactions.

None of the ballplayers felt a thing, with third base coach Tony Beasley confessing that had he felt anything, “I would have thought I was dreaming.”

TOM GORZELANNY, A pitcher for the Pirates, only learned about an earthquake when his wife in Pittsburgh told him about it. “I didn’t feel it,” he told the newspaper.

Now some might argue that ballplayers are just a little too self-absorbed to be credible non-witnesses. That may be true.

But the simple fact is that I have not noticed anything out of the ordinary about my surroundings during the earthquake or any of the aftershocks.

I was in bed asleep when the initial earthquake (5.2 on the Richter scale) hit, and was driving my car en route to pick up my niece at her day care center when the first aftershock hit Friday morning.

SUPPOSEDLY, THERE HAVE been many aftershocks since then all through the weekend, with the most recent ones occurring Monday at 12:40 a.m. (a 4) and supposedly another that took place sometime around 8:15 a.m.

I didn’t feel it. I only know it occurred because I happened to be watching one of the morning news programs on Chicago television when WFLD-TV’s Tammie Souza (in the middle of a weather forecast) said we had just experienced yet another aftershock.

Of course, she confessed to not having felt anything either.

I hate to bring any of this up because it sounds like I’m trying to trivialize the event – which appears to be centered around the Southern Illinois towns of West Salem and Mount Carmel (both of which are in the southeastern part of the state near the Indiana border – about 240 miles from Chicago).

I’D LIKE TO think it is the distance from the epicenter that makes these quakes such a minor event for us.

But I have read the tales of people who were jostled out of their sleep Friday morning (I’d like to think that if the South Side had truly been hit with a tremendous disaster, I also would have been awoken from my sleep) and others who suffered minor property damage.

There’s a website called “Apartment Therapy” that is filled with tales and anecdotes of people allegedly from Chicago who felt the earth shift.

But I have yet to personally meet anyone who can share a personal story (which is the case with a metropolitan area of more than 8 million people – there are very few events that are truly universal to all the people of the Chicago area).

IN FACT, THE closest I can come to having talked to someone who felt any tremors was a conversation with my mother. She was awake at the time of the initial earthquake and felt nothing.

But when she went to a scheduled early morning medical treatment, the earthquake was the talk of the waiting room, as about half of the would-be patients said they felt something, and a couple claimed it was the tremors that woke them from their sleep.

So how big a deal should we be making of this earthquake?

I’m thinking particularly of the news media coverage that has been trying to portray this as an event of historic proportions.

IT IS, FOR the area. The Midwest usually gets one or two (tops) earthquakes of any significance per century. I’d like to think that this event carries us over into the year 2050 (by which time I would be so old I might have a legitimate reason to be oblivious to shaking pavement).

And I realize there is a sense among Chicago-based news gathering organizations that they are supposed to cover the entire Midwest region. But is this truly a story just for Southern Illinois?

While I realize there has been some property damage, I have yet to hear any reports of fatalities (and if anyone does know of deaths, I would appreciate you pointing them out to me).

By continually hyping every single aftershock that very few people felt, are the local television types (and the Chicago Tribune – whose idea of Chicagoland stretches from Detroit to Kansas City) making themselves look silly?

COULD THIS LITERALLY be the one time that the Chicago Sun-Times’ microscopic view of the world (their idea of Chicagoland at times doesn’t even cover all of Cook County, Ill.) saved them from over-hyping an event?

When other newspapers across the Midwest were hyping up the earthquake story like crazy, the Sun-Times gave us the tale of the grandfather who dived into Lake Michigan to save his infant grandson, whose stroller rolled off Belmont Harbor (both grandfather and grandson remained hospitalized Monday).

The earthquake warranted one square inch of space in the lower corner of Page One, and that was only to tell us that a story could be found inside on Page 5. Tony Rezko getting out of jail on $8.5 million bond and the scrapping of the spindle (that tacky bit of “art” consisting of junk cars on a spike that made its way into background shots of that forgettable film “Wayne’s World) also got better play than the earthquake.

The simple fact is that an earthquake of 5.2 is somewhat minor, compared to the land shifts that take place along the West Coast. California experiences such tremors on a regular basis.

WHEN COMBINED WITH the fact that this event did not result in any deaths, I’m sure all this coverage is making the Midwesterners look like a batch of rubes to the California crowd.

It also adds to the cynicism felt by many Chicagoans toward their local businesses that make their money by gathering news. I lost count of the number of times this weekend I heard people dismiss earthquake coverage as yet another example of an irresponsible media trying to make a story out of nothing.

So to the people of Southern Illinois and southeast Indiana who may have to find alternate housing while their earthquake damaged homes are repaired or rebuilt, I sympathize. Don’t take my concern about over-coverage in Chicago as being a lack of concern.

It’s just that I fear too much coverage here will convince the bulk of Chicagoans that nothing really happened, not here nor anywhere else. The end result would be that the bulk of Illinois’ population would come to wrongly downplay what has occurred in the land of Little Egypt.


EDITOR’S NOTES: This young Chicagoan didn’t feel the earthquake (, largely due to imbibing excess quantities of man-made substances.

For those people who want to read stories of Chicagoans who experienced the earthquake, this ( is as good a place as I can recommend.

Illinois government officials are preparing to swarm into Southern Illinois to assess ( damage, despite claims ( there was little lasting effect of Friday’s earthquake.

Monday, April 21, 2008

That old cliché just might be right – “The only poll that matters is Election Day”

I have complained about political polls before, and I likely will continue to do so in the future. The problem isn’t with the polls themselves, but with the people who are trying to interpret them.

Either they are confused as to what a poll means, or they have a predisposition as to what they want it to mean. The most important part of a poll is often not the “final result” of who wins, but the lesser information it can give you about trends and attitudes of voters.

ALL TOO OFTEN, a poll’s results will be used as some sort of “bottom line” to claim the election ought to be over. Take my experience Sunday while watching the dearth of real news on television.

The junk takes over. At one point, I was watching MSNBC as they did a story about a new poll showing Democrat Hillary R. Clinton with a five-point lead over challenger Barack Obama.

In mid-story, I changed the channel to CNN, where I picked up in mid-segment a story about how Democrat Obama was in the lead over Clinton in the latest poll they were giving any credence to.

Someone not paying attention might think that someone was forgetting to take their medication before preparing one version of the story. In all likelihood, though, both are right.

INSOFAR AS THE two poll stories from Sunday are concerned, the MSNBC story was about a poll of likely voters in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. The CNN story was about yet another poll of the nation as a whole.

So it could very well be that Pennsylvania Democrats favor Clinton over Obama, while Democrats across the country would rather see Obama over Clinton.

Insofar as any of the “national” polls are concerned, it is nice to have a sense of the mood of the country. But ultimately, it is irrelevant to the current system of electoral politics.

We don’t have national elections in the United States. We, the people, choose our chief residents of the White House from the combined results of 50 sets of statewide elections. So Obama could very well have a majority of people who would want to identify as Democrat, but not win primaries in enough places so as to kill off the Clinton campaign.

SO INSOFAR AS the Gallup Organization’s latest poll (released Sunday), it shows Obama leading Clinton 47 percent to 45 percent. In and of itself, not terribly significant.

But when compared to the results issued by Gallup just one day earlier (Clinton led Obama 46 percent to 45 percent), it could be interpreted that any loss of support that Obama could have suffered due to debate revelations of his ties to one-time “radicals” against the Vietnam War have gone away.

Perhaps it just isn’t much of an issue to people likely to consider voting in a Democratic primary (since many of them who were old enough to be around for the 1960s likely were those who didn’t approve of U.S. involvement in that war).

To me, that goes along with another Gallup poll the group released last week – one that showed Obama with 51 percent of Democratic voter support both before and after revelations of comments about small-town America that Clinton has interpreted to mean that Obama is an “elitist.”

BY COMPARISON, CLINTON’S support level in that study dropped from 42 percent to 40 percent after she began making her charges.

Does this mean that “the American people” have enough intelligence to realize that these “issues” are nothing more than ridiculous campaign rhetoric that is best not taken seriously, no matter how salaciously it is presented over and over and over on television news broadcasts?

The Pennsylvania poll, conducted by Zogby International, caught me as being more interesting because it showed Clinton only getting 47 percent of support (compared to 42 percent for Obama and the rest still undecided).

With Obama’s lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Clinton needs to administer a butt-whuppin’ on Tuesday. She needs to thoroughly thrash him at the polls so she can take a majority of the 187 delegates that come from Pennsylvania.

IF IT TURNS out that she only gets about 95 delegates, and he gets about 90, then she has failed. There aren’t any more large population states with upcoming primaries or caucuses for her to gain ground. A close Obama loss on Tuesday might as well be an Obama victory.

There’s also the concept that Clinton, in this latest poll, gets less than half of the support of would-be Democrats. So just over one-half want someone other than Hillary to be the Democratic nominee. The only real question for those people is, Should it be Barack?

Or should they engage in some sort of protest vote by staying at home Tuesday and picking nobody?

A 47 percent support level does not sound like that of a campaign that is preparing to administer the thrashing that Clinton needs to keep her presidential dreams alive beyond this week.

BUT IT’S ALSO not likely that anyone is prepared to give up at this point in the campaign. They might as well fight it out to the very end.

So on to Guam, where Democratic Party supporters among the island’s residents will have their only say in the presidential politics in the May 3 caucuses.

Considering that they can’t even vote in the Nov. 4 general elections, who would have ever thought there’d be a day when the people of Guam (and Puerto Rico on June 1) would have a relevant role in deciding who the next president of the United States will be?

That is probably the best evidence of just how bizarre Campaign ’08 has become – truly a race for the history books, regardless of who wins.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Sen. Hillary R. Clinton’s home-state colleague in the Senate, Charles Schumer, is predicting ( a big Pennsylvania win for Clinton – a claim I take about as seriously as if Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., were to predict a “big win” somewhere for Barack Obama.

Obama appears to be viewing the primary season as a basketball game. Rather than beat her convincingly, Obama hopes to ( run down the clock with a lead until Clinton runs out of time to catch up.

Here’s how the Democratic primary fight in Pennsylvania is being viewed in Australia (,21985,23570111-663,00.html) and in ( Great Britain.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Would a Hoosier debate be more substantive than the others? Not likely

I can never figure out in my mind whether our campaign seasons have too many debates, or too few.

The reality is that we have too many events that masquerade as debates. In reality, the events themselves are worthless – except as a forum for pressuring a politico to say something stupid that can be played over and over and over on television newscasts across the nation.

THE NUMBER OF political debates this year that actually had substantive formats or were designed to draw out worthwhile information from the candidates? Zero.

Too many of the campaign debates I have covered throughout the years as a reporter existed merely so that some group could claim it had enough influence to sponsor one of the official debates. None of this year’s roughly 20 Democratic presidential debates appear to be any different.

Some debates are sponsored by government watchdog groups (like the League of Women Voters) that want to say they have enough clout to control a political event.

Others are driven by news media organizations whose purpose in sponsoring the event is to turn the debate into a personal interview session with their star news anchor or other broadcast talent – thereby promoting the television station’s image.

THAT’S THE BEST way to look at the most recent debate held in Philadelphia – the one where Barack Obama claims he was ganged up on by George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson.

ABC wanted to show off their star news anchor and Sunday morning show host so they could claim in the future that they had the expert resources working to put together their newscasts.

In a sense, Stephanopoulos was trying to “make his bones” journalistically when he brought up matters such as Obama’s acquaintanceship with former anti-Vietnam War radical Bill Ayers and permitted an audience member to treat the concept of U.S. flag lapel pins as though they were a legitimate issue.

In that sense, the debate was a success. ABC got attention for its news division people, the ratings were good and there’s a very good chance that the Philadelphia debate will be the only one that people remember years from now (although the Austin, Texas debate where Hillary Clinton put her foot in her mouth several times may also go unforgotten).

IT ALSO MEANS that Barack Obama is not being paranoid when he says the debate was something of an ambush, and that it took roughly 45 minutes of the two-hour time allotted for the event before any issue of substance was discussed, although Stephanopoulos has said he was merely trying to put Obama “on the record” on several ongoing “issues.”

The problem with modern-day campaign debates is that they are “made for TV” events. They are all designed to fit within the confines of one hour (sometimes two). But a debate is supposed to be a spontaneous, but structured, event where candidates provide meaningful responses to serious questions.

Instead, television productions masquerading as debates wind up cutting off candidates before they can really answer a question. And a conniving candidate knows how to fill up the bulk of their allotted time with meaningless pap or a blistering attack on their opponent, knowing they can run the clock down so as to evade having to provide a meaningful answer to whatever the question was.

They differ significantly from the political debates of old, which could run on for hours and were designed to allow for significant back-and-forth between the candidates as they responded to each others questions and answers.

I RECALL A 1998 debate during the Illinois gubernatorial race that was held in Charleston, Ill. It differed from other debates that year (and from other debates typically held for statewide campaigns) in that the sponsors were determined to host an event that followed the format of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856.

It was interesting, from a government geek’s perspective, as the level to which a candidate could respond to a question and elaborate was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard before.

But it was long – more than three hours. Individual questions, with all the back and forth permitted, could take up to a half hour to complete.

With the modern-day time constraints of blocking out an hour or so for a debate, television viewers would get to hear opening statements, one question, and perhaps a closing statement – if the candidates could keep their comments concise.

I WOULD THINK any television producer who tried to propose putting such an event on the air would promptly lose their job (just think how difficult it would be to break away from the back and forth of an answer in order to air commercials).

In all honesty, I’m not sure what to think of the prospect of yet another debate.

Indiana officials want to have one somewhere in their state prior to the May 6 primary, and Clinton on Friday agreed to participate in the event tentatively scheduled for Thursday (just two days after the Pennsylvania primary).

But Obama has yet to agree to participate, and Indiana officials admit they are more than willing to consider other dates – provided that the event occurs prior to the Hoosier primary.

COULD IT TAKE a boost of Hoosier organization to put together a debate-type event that puts aside any desire to promote Indiana and focuses on getting information from the candidates?

Quit dreaming.

Already, Rudy Clay, the mayor of Gary, Ind., is saying he wants the Indiana debate to be held in his city – because he wants the national focus for one night on Gary for something other than a murder or steel mill layoffs.

There’s also the fact that any Indiana debate would be broadcast, by PBS affiliates and CNN. Ultimately, this means a Hoosier debate would be merely the John King show (just like the Austin, Texas debate), allowing CNN’s chief national correspondent to show off, perhaps with a little help from Gwen Ifill or Jim Lehrer of PBS.

SO WHILE I wouldn’t mind if the next presidential debate were to be held so close to Chicago (I suspect Indianapolis, the state capital, has a better shot at hosting the event), a part of me dreads the coming of yet another televised debate.

My mind is cluttered with enough political trivia from this campaign season to last me a lifetime. I’m afraid if I pick up another tidbit, it will knock something important out of my mind.

It would be a shame if I forgot my laptop computer passwords or personal telephone numbers just because someone else had to pump into my head some detail about Obama’s childhood life in Indonesia meant to inspire the nativists of this country to cast ballots in the Nov. 4 general elections for John McCain.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Will Barack Obama come to the land of Hoosiers to debate Hillary Clinton yet again? We’ll have ( to wait and see.

Gary, Ind., hasn’t had upbeat national attention since the Miss USA pageant was held there in 2001. Hence, city officials ( want the Indiana portion of the Chicago area to host an Indiana presidential debate.

Once both major parties have presidential nominees, the Commission on Presidential Debates ( will be responsible for coordinating the events that pretend to be worthwhile debates.

Friday, April 18, 2008

EXTRA: Earthquake?

Either I am very fortunate, or I am totally oblivious. I didn’t feel a thing.

I was awake until the early hours of Friday, writing copy and otherwise performing the tasks required to publish this site and its sister, The South Chicagoan.

So round about 4:36 a.m., I was asleep, and nothing around me jolted me out of my sleep. I didn’t learn about an earthquake until I awoke at about 7:30 a.m. and (first thing) turned on a television. Robin Meade of CNN Headline got to break the news to me, followed up by reports from Chicago’s WGN and WFLD.

As I look around my apartment, I see no evidence that anything unusual happened – certainly not the most intense earthquake to hit the Midwestern U.S. in decades.

But I don’t doubt that some people felt something. Reports of emergency calls from across Chicago (most just wanting to know what happened) were made to 9-1-1, and the shaking at the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago was so intense (moreso than the swaying that the building usually has due to high winds at 1,000 feet in the air) that officials felt the need to do a morning inspection for structural damage.

Reportedly, they found none.

This earthquake has the potential to unify the Midwest. It was felt in parts of all the states that comprise the old Three Eye League (Illinois, Indiana and Iowa), along with Wisconsin and Michigan, and some tremors were felt as far north as Ontario and as far south as Georgia.

At the very least, it ought to remind Chicagoans that our city is very much a part of the Midwest, and not some isolated island in a sea of corn and soybean fields.

So I am going to consider myself and my fellow Chicagoans lucky that we are not having to cope with a disaster Friday that costs us our livelihoods. My sympathies go out to all those who do, particularly those in Southern Illinois near West Salem (which was the epicenter of the earthquake that registered a 5.2 on the Richter scale).

I’m sure April 18, 2008, will become one of those dates they will never forget.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Here are a few sites to check if one wants serious details about the earthquake or its aftermath:

Chicago Tribune – Downstate earthquake rattles people awake across Chicago area,0,6535454.story

CNN – Midwest earthquake felt far and wide

Southern Illinoisan – the major daily newspaper for the earthquake epicenter

Obama should not be trashed for associating with a 'Weatherman'

If a certain segment of society in this country gets its way, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama will be tainted by the fact he lives in the same South Side neighborhood as Bill Ayers.

To listen to the questioning that came up during this week’s presidential debate in Philadelphia, it becomes obvious that some people paid no attention during history class and have little to no clue as to what the social turmoil of the 1960s was all about.

TOO MANY PEOPLE seem to want to put that era into some sort of 1980s context by which the spirit of Ronald Reagan would have us believe that any association with the less conservative elements of our society during that era taints one for life.

Even when one takes into account that Obama was only a child at the time (he turned 10 in 1971), some people would have us believe the fact that he knows people who were not “hawks” when it came to the Vietnam War is enough reason to hold him suspect.

Obama got hit with questions about his support for Ayers, even though as best as I can tell, they have only met because they literally both live in the Hyde Park neighborhood, just a few blocks from each other.

Of course, nearly 30,000 people live in that neighborhood on the Lake Michigan shorefront. Do we hold them all suspect?

Barack Obama was all of 7 years old when Bill Ayers was posed by the Chicago Police Department for this "mug shot" in 1968.

NOW FOR THE bulk of his adult life, Ayers has devoted himself to academia. He currently is on the education faculty (a “distinguished professor of education” is his exact title) at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But Ayers suffers from Jane Fonda Syndrome.

The social conservative elements of this country do not want us to forget the fact that Ayers (along with his partner Bernardine Dohrn) were a part of The Weatherman – that ‘60s collective of largely privileged white youths who believed they were waging war against the corrupt establishment that had the United States in a war in Vietnam.

Now admittedly, the Weatherman (named for a line in the old Bob Dylan song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), were considered by many people to be a bit extreme – even for those who fondly remember their liberal activities of that era. That’s what messing around with explosives will get for you – a reputation as a kook.

CONSERVATIVES ALSO TAKE into account the fact that Ayers, on many occasions, has said he is not apologetic for his belief that the United States should never have got involved in a war in Vietnam.

To listen to questions concerning Ayers during the debate (and the way Hillary Clinton piled on during her responses to Obama’s answers), Obama is friends with a man who is the moral equivalent of the people in the Middle East who commit acts of violence in the name of Allah.

They would have you believe that Obama is friends with a man who attacked the Pentagon and other public facilities and who also planted bombs that killed people. They also would want you to think this is the man who, on Sept. 11, 2001, while airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, told the New York Times “I don’t regret setting bombs,” and “I feel we didn’t do enough” to undermine the U.S. military.

By Clinton’s logic, the Weatherman attack on the Pentagon was identical in stature to the airplane three decades later that religious extremists piloted directly into the same building.

HERE’S A DOSE of “fact,” as it relates to those Weatherman bombs. The only people they ever managed to kill were themselves.

Property damage was what they were after, such as the “Days of Rage” protests of 1969 where members ran through the Rush Street nightclub district and shattered store windows and parked cars in a lame attempt to simulate the disruptiveness of war to the people of Chicago.

Explosives are tricky, particularly if one doesn't really know what they are doing. That's what caused a March 6, 1970 explosion at a Greenwich Village townhouse where Weatherman members were holed up. This “terrorist” group (as some on the far right are determined to label them, even though they’d dispute the same label being applied to the Ku Klux Klan) only managed to kill themselves off – no one else.

Another fact – the Weatherman attack on the Pentagon may very well be one of the most pathetic attempts by anyone to attack a military installation.

AS I UNDERSTAND it, the group placed an explosive in a men’s rest room at the Pentagon. When it went off, it caused some pipe damage and serious water overflow in part of the building. That water resulted in damage to computers that were processing information related to the Vietnam war effort.

The spin by Weatherman members was that the disrupted the Vietnam War – bringing it to a half for a couple of hours. Reality says they were more an annoyance than a threat, behaving in a manner like the kid in high school who thinks he’s cute because he lights a cherry bomb and drops it down the toilet.

Looking at it factually, it makes Clinton look ridiculous for comparing the Weatherman to Islamic radicals.

I can't help but wonder if she now seriously believes that the Pentagon was levitated (remember when Abbie Hoffman and his Yippie allies protested outside the building, then later told people they caused the building to float in the air as a sign of protest against the war?)

AND AS FAR as Ayers being the guy who badmouthed the United States on the day of the New York and Pentagon attacks? He had just published a book (semi-autobiographical, with some details changed to protect others) and was trying to promote it. The fact that a Times feature appeared on the same day, hours before the attacks, is coincidental.

His belief that he wanted to do more to oppose the military was NOT a response to the activity of Sept. 11, which is how Clinton tried to spin it during the debate.

Now for those who are going to accuse me of being an Ayers apologist, I’m not. I’ve never met the man, although I’m sure that if I were older (I was only 4 at the time of the Days of Rage), I would not have had the nerve to mess with explosives, no matter how negatively I might have perceived Vietnam (I have two uncles who served in the military – army and marine corps – and saw combat in that war. This is something we disagree on).

But I believe we need to quit thinking about the 1960s as some sort of litmus test by which everyone who opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam or looks down on J. Edgar Hoover’s use of the FBI to harass civil rights dissidents is somehow tainted for life.

NOW IT IS true that some of The Weatherman people went on to commit crimes of violence separate from their activist protests. They have either done their prison time, or may be serving time still.

But Obama’s ties are only that he knows Ayers, who doesn’t have any criminal convictions of his own (in part because the FBI’s investigations into “radical” activity were so overzealous that all their evidence against him was ruled inadmissible in court).

Trying to tar Obama because Ayers wasn’t a “hawk” during the Vietnam War is absurd.

THIS RIDICULOUS MENTALITY belongs to the people who were behind much of the right’s disgust with the presidency of Bill Clinton (and for that matter, Hillary herself). The only people who are going to accept such a premise are the ones who would never vote for Clinton to begin with.

In short, it plays right into reinforcing the campaign of Republican opponent John McCain. It makes me wonder if those Democrats who suspect Hillary would secretly be comfortable with a McCain victory in 2008 (so she could try again in ’12) are not just being paranoid.

Actually, all she’s doing is taking down the reputation of the Clinton years among Democratic activists and ensuring that she herself could never get the party’s nomination to serve in the Oval Office.

If that’s the case, we might have to wait for Chelsea to become “of age” before we see another Clinton in the White House.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Bill Ayers’ website ( is devoted to his educational credentials, but does not shy away from his activist days.

Rick Ayers is disgusted with Hillary Clinton’s comments about his brother, Bill (, seeing them as evidence that Hillary will say anything to try to chip away at Barack Obama’s lead.

The Weather Underground’s “declaration of war” on Amerika ( can be found here.

Was President Bill Clinton wrong to give pardons to people with ties to the Weather Underground ( movement of the 1960s?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gun bill rejection is rural Illinois' annual "forget you" to Chicago

Every year for most of the nearly 20 years that Richard M. Daley has been mayor, he has pushed his people who work at the Statehouse in Springfield to get the Illinois General Assembly to approve a statewide ban on handguns similar to what is already THE LAW in Chicago.

The measures always get through legislative committees, where Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – in keeping with his unofficial role of keeping the Legislature in line with Chicago’s desires – uses his pull to ensure that the issue gets a hearing.

THEN, THE ILLINOIS House of Representatives engages in a rare act of bipartisanship as rural and suburban lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, come to the conclusion that “the enemy” is Chicago. They gang up, and vote the measure down.

At a time when the rural portions of Illinois only account for one-third (at most) of the state’s population, this issue has become one of the annual acts of state government. They kill off Daley’s dreams of gun control to show him that he can’t run roughshod over the rest of Illinois.

The most recent political killing took place Wednesday.

This year, Daley allies weren’t so bold as to push for any outright bans on firearms. What they wanted this year was creation of a state law that would have required the sale of handguns in Illinois to occur only at federally licensed firearms dealers – who must comply with laws requiring criminal background checks.

IT WAS A measure designed by Chicago city officials to get around laws that allow private sales of firearms by dealers at gun shows, where background checks on the gun buyers are non-existent.

City-oriented officials argue that these private dealers are the loop hole by which handguns wind up in the possession of people who otherwise would not be able to get a gun, but rural people say the Daley-desired change in law would criminalize individuals who privately sell a pistol to a friend.

The bill received a 58-58 vote, with two other legislators – Eddie Washington of Waukegan and Jim Watson of Jacksonville – not voting because of excused absences. Had those two legislators cast votes for the measure (a long-shot), it would have passed with the bare minimum of 60 votes.

Now for those who think the city is being picked on by the rest of the state, keep in mind that Daley allies knew full well they would lose again this year. A similar measure had already been rejected this spring. There was only one reason for the bill to be called for a vote, and that was because of Wednesday’s date.

APRIL 16, 2008 IS THE one-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech University where 32 students were killed when a well-armed student went on a rampage on campus.

Every single one of the 58 state representatives who voted against the Daley plan now runs the risk of having campaign advertising used against them that tells would-be voters how their local legislator celebrated, so-to-speak, the one-year anniversary of Virginia Tech by voting against “reasonable restrictions” on firearms.

Some of the legislators who come from suburban areas (who are only voting against the measure because they are Republicans opposing Democrat Daley) could run the risk of losing votes from people in their legislative districts who are not government junkies and do not follow the nuances of every single one of the thousands of bills that come before the General Assembly every year.

For rural legislators, this is less of an issue. Many come from small communities where rifle ownership can often be a cultural tie passed down from generation to generation. They are more likely to want to believe whatever spin the Illinois State Rifle Association wants to put on the issue, rather than the Daley spin.

WEDNESDAY’S LEGISLATIVE ACTION is a case of rural Illinois exerting what little influence it still holds (as they will be the first to tell you, all of the state constitutional officers and the General Assembly’s top leaders are from Chicago) on an issue where it believes the city’s desires are too far at odds with their own.

It literally becomes an issue where Southern Illinois Democrats have no problem breaking with their Chicago counterparts to unite with central Illinois Republicans to show that they are united in their desire not to be an extension of Chicago.

One legislator, Mike Bost of Murphysboro, said he thinks this year’s measure would have made criminals of the gun dealers who operate heavily in his area, and would not have any significant impact on violence in the city.

“It’s not going to cure your problem with criminals in your city with handguns,” Bost told the Bloomington, Ill.-based Pantagraph newspaper.

“YOUR PROBLEM,” AND “your city.” That is the sad thing.

Guns have become an issue of regionalism overcoming common sense and a desire to reduce violence, made worse by the fact that “Illinois” is, at best, a theoretical concept – rather than a distinct region with unified interests.

This different perspective is not new. I still remember the 1998 Democratic primary for governor – when eventual nominee Glenn Poshard (who takes great pride in being a Southern Illinois native with no ties to Chicago) started off the campaign as an outspoken critic of any measures to restrict firearm ownership.

Eventually, though, even Poshard moderated his talk against gun control, often telling the story of how he visited a Chicago hospital emergency room at a moment when some shootings were being treated.

HE WOULD SAY during the latter days of the campaign (while trying to convince Chicagoans he was not some rural ‘gun nut’) it was at that moment that he realized just why so many urban residents wanted handgun restrictions and were willing to put aside the desires of hunters and the theoretical notion of the Second Amendment to the Constitution (which guarantees the American people the right to arm themselves so they can be in a militia).

Perhaps the key is to drag every rural legislator into the Stroger Hospital emergency room to give them a sense of the chaos that can be created by firearms in the city.

Maybe then, people like Bost would start seeing that there are commonalities in Illinois’ regions, despite the roughly 300 mile difference that exists between Chicago and his hometown.

Admittedly, Bost is from the region that literally is closer to Memphis than either Chicago or St. Louis – the two cities that 95 percent of Illinoisans identify with. That could be just too large a social gap to bridge.

BUT THERE ARE political people who live on the fringes of the Chicago area who act as though they wish they could put space between themselves and the city. They are the ones who need to have a little arm-twisting.

Ultimately, it will have to come down to Chicago’s political muscle being used to let all Illinoisans know just how much of an economic and social stake they have in an improved Chicago – one that is safe and secure both in reality and in perception.

The scary thing is that too many legislators would see this as an excuse to extort Chicago for some sort of local project. No matter what they might want to think, rural legislators aren’t any more ethical than their urban counterparts. Just think back to how many rural lawmakers were upset that they didn’t get more for their support of a Chicago Transit Authority emergency funding measure that finally got approval early this year.

Short of an extra effort by Chicago, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that the two sides will come together any time soon. In the words of state Rep. John Bradley, a Democrat from Marion, “we’re always going to have philosophical differences about the issues involving gun ownership in the state.”


EDITOR’S NOTES: One of the larger newspapers in central Illinois lays out Wednesday’s legislative activity on firearms sales restrictions ( from the perspective of the rural critics of gun control.

Students at the University of Illinois are organizing themselves into a campus ( organization that wants to be able to carry pistols around the Quadrangle and other parts of the campus in Urbana and Champaign.