Saturday, May 31, 2008

Catholic church should crack down on all priestly politicking, not just Rev. Pfleger

In theory, I was pleased to learn that Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese is cracking down on the Second City’s very own Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has managed to become yet a second “crazy black preacher” (even though he’s white) to be aligned with Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

I honestly believe Pfleger’s recent remarks concerning Obama opponent Hillary R. Clinton and her expectations of support from white people are not worth much attention – in part because Pfleger’s history shows he will use his position as head of the South Side’s St. Sabina church to say just about anything.

HE’S ALSO DOING nothing more than stating the incredibly obvious when he says that racial tensions have tainted the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign.

So George’s statement issued Friday that Pfleger had promised to “not publicly mention any candidate by name and will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests” means there will be one less person spouting inflammatory rhetoric related to the presidential candidates.

That is a plus.

But George, in his statement, also said that priests, “must speak to political issues that are also moral.” Which means there are occasions when he wants his priests to speak out and go on the attack against political people.

BUT THE QUESTION is, “What is moral” and “What is mere politicking?”

Some people might argue that Pfleger was addressing a moral issue – the way in which racial tensions that exist in this country have poisoned the presidential campaigns between Obama and Clinton.

In fact, whenever Pfleger has spoken out throughout the years, it was motivated by incidents where interests of lower-income African-American people are being ignored by the establishment. Considering that he presides over a parish that was once white Irish, but has evolved into majority African-American, one can say Pfleger is just reflecting the views of his parishioners – which is what a priest is supposed to do.

In the latest “incident,” Pfleger, when he made a special address to the congregation last Sunday at the Trinity United Church of Christ (Obama’s church, and the one for which the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was pastor for many years), was talking about what he perceived as Clinton’s racially improper conduct during her campaign.

SPECIFICALLY, HE MOCKED the tears she shed publicly at an event early in the campaign season. Some political observers believe she was putting on an act, but Pfleger went into a diatribe saying that Clinton was legitimately sad that people were taking a black candidate more seriously than they were a white woman such as herself.

“She wasn’t the only one crying,” Pfleger told the congregation. “There was a whole lot of white people crying.”

George called the Clinton comments “partisan” and said they, “amount to a personal attack.” Clinton aides really are crying now, calling the reverend’s comments unfair, and Obama couldn’t issue his statement denouncing Pfleger fast enough.

But is it really any less partisan or personal whenever a Catholic priest somewhere in the United States decides to take it on himself to deny communion to (or even go so far as to call for the excommunication of) a politician (almost always an urban Democrat) who won’t call for the criminalization of a woman’s ability to abort a pregnancy?

THIS HAS HAPPENED many times, most recently earlier this month when Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas denounced that state's governor (and possible choice of Obama for vice president), Kathleen Sebelius, for supporting the "serious moral evil" of abortion.

Some people reading this commentary will now get angry and argue that abortion qualifies as one of those “moral” issues that George, in his statement, said priests must speak to.

But I would respond that the potential of racism in this campaign is also a moral issue. Perhaps the church should be trying to encourage its members to look beyond prejudices in trying to determine who should get their votes come the Nov. 4 elections?

If it won’t do that, then the Catholic church (many of whose priests and nuns used to march in solidarity with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. back in the 1960s) becomes a part of the problem, by which people would prefer to ignore racial tensions and let them simmer – rather than try to resolve them.

I CERTAINLY WOULDN'T object in the least if the next priest who wants to play local politics with a social conservative Republican by demonizing the GOPer’s Democratic opponent were to get a similar order from their archbishop to “keep quiet.”

But I am realistic enough to know that is not going to happen.

That is why too many people view the Catholic church as being willing to allow freedom of expression, provided that people say the “right” thing that agrees with the boss. Say the “wrong” thing, and you get a symbolic whack across the knuckles with a ruler.

It wasn’t always like this. There was once a time when churches in this country viewed electoral politics as something almost sinful. They tried to stay out of the mechanizations of elections because they feared being tainted by the process.

NOW, THEY'RE ALL too eager to take sides.

That bothers me because it is not like either political party has dominance over morals – I have seen enough politicos up close to know there are sleazy people in every political party in existence. And the truly good ones are also scattered about the political spectrum.

With the influence that the church has over its members, I’d hate to think it was being wasted on behalf of certain political people just because they happen to be a part of a Cardinal’s preferred political party.

If that is the case, then the Catholic church goes from being an organization devoted to protecting the spiritual faith of its members to being one of the lowest forms of life in existence – they’re nothing more than lobbyists.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Chicago Archdiocese ( was short and sweet in telling Rev. Michael Pfleger to “shut up” about politics.

Should presidential candidates ( downplay their religious affiliations?

Throughout the years, Father Pfleger has touted causes as profound as trying to reduce ( the amount of violence in African-american neighborhoods to as small as ( trying to get the youth basketball league team his church sponsors to play in a church-run league of predominantly white teams.

The Catholic church defends its actions in the excommunication of wayward souls ( who happen to be in electoral politics.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Don't they realize that Daley-speak could give them one of the most unusual commencement speech experiences ever?

I have always thought of Northwestern University types as a batch of whiny fools from out-of-town whom we Chicagoans are forced to endure in our midst. Now, I have the bit of evidence that proves my point.

It seems the students of the school in suburban Evanston (who like to think they attend college in the nitty-gritty, urban atmosphere of Chicago) are upset that their graduation ceremony on June 20 will have the ultimate face of Chicago present – Hizzoner Jr.

RICHARD M. DALEY will give the commencement address, and will be the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree. His presence is meant to provide the 2008 graduation events with its unique touch.

Northwestern University officials actually thought their announcement would garner some positive press, since Daley is not the type who needs to feed his ego by seeking out commencement speeches (unlike someone like television personality Tavis Smiley, who is doing at least four graduation speeches this spring).

But all they got were complaints from students who feel that Daley is not worthy of their time.

One student who posted a message on the website of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper went so far as to say that Daley does not deserve to speak to them because he only attended DePaul University – which makes him not that bright. Another student sent his complaints by e-mail to university President Henry Beinen, who shot back a response that the student should “grow up.”

I HAVE TO agree.

It dismays me that a new group of students is going into the world who did their college time so close to Chicago, yet seem to have no comprehension of just what it was they experienced while living here.

Daley is a national figure, both because of his family’s political legacy (his father and brothers) and because of the size of his home city (just under 3 million people, and the focus of more than 8-million person metropolitan area).

Daley has responsibilities that would extend beyond those of governors of small and mid-sized states. In fact, some people would argue that the reason Democratic politics in Illinois is in such disarray these days is because our governor doesn’t like the fact that Daley is more powerful than he is.

DALEY FALLS INTO the same category of politicos as the nationally known mayors of New York and Los Angeles.

Yet I don’t hear the student bodies of the University of Pennsylvania (where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is giving the commencement speech this year) or Occidental College (where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will speak) claiming their educational experiences will be sullied because all they got was a mayor.

Now some of the students said that, if they had to get a political person, they would have preferred someone of the stature of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. That is just a case of students being clueless about the realities of politics.

Obama’s career advanced beyond the realm of representing Hyde Park in the Illinois Legislature because he made his ties to the political power of Daley and the Democratic organization in Chicago. In the world of politics, Daley is bigger than Obama until the day Obama takes the oath of office as president.

THEN, DALEY’S REPUTATION will grow even further nationally because he will be able to claim he “made” Obama into a nationally worthy figure.

Even if it’s not really true, it will be what people across the country will want to believe, particularly those who want to smear Obama with Daley because they believe the mayor represents everything that is wrong with politics in the United States.

There’s also the fact that Obama doesn’t appear to be doing any commencement speeches this year (running against John McCain is keeping him busy). But he has done four such speeches since becoming a U.S. senator, including the Northwestern address of 2006.

These Northwestern geeks apparently view Obama as their personal motivational speaker. It’s a good thing that Northwestern looked to someone else.

NOW I WILL be the first to admit that the thought of Daley giving a speech makes me chuckle a bit. He is far from a classic public speaker. There will be those who will giggle at the way he exits a sentence from a different grammatical universe than he entered it.

But his blunt-spoken earthiness can be reassuring. It tends to make you think this man is speaking the truth – even when he’s engaging in political double-talk. It is a significant part of the man’s appeal to Chicago voters during the past two decades.

What I’m saying is that the man who once told a gathering of reporters that, “you’d want to know if there’s a rat in your sandwich” when asked about citywide crackdowns on unsanitary restaurants is likely to come up with a good line or two – something that will be remembered.

It’s bound to be more memorable than the other local politico who gave a commencement speech – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan spoke to the graduates of Chicago-Kent College of Law.

IF ANYTHING, WHAT a student should want from their commencement speaker is a quotable line that will help break up what otherwise is a dreadful routine of pomp and ceremony. Somebody with the potential to be funny is better than someone deadly serious.

I should know.

I still remember by own graduation from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1987. After four years of academia, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton gave me his advice. He chose to speak on the subject of “Our Nuclear Age – a Time of Hope.”

Was it awful! He spoke in a monotone and, to this day, I cannot remember a single line of what he said. In fact, my only real memories were looking over at my family and seeing my grandmother literally asleep, and my stepmother’s father spending the rest of the day ragging on me for making him have to sit through such a dreadful speaker.

DALEY IS NOT the classic orator. But he will give the Northwestern kids a memory they won’t forget, even if they still have a buzz going from the wild partying they did the night before commencement.

Besides, it could be worse. The university could have followed the lead of many colleges in picking out an alumnus who has “made good.” Northwestern could have sought a local politico by picking Blagojevich to speak (he received his bachelor’s degree from there in 1979).

His nasally tone and lack of anything significant to say would be dreadful to sit through, as I’m sure the graduating students at the University of Tampa (where Blagojevich also attended for a couple of years) who endured his commencement speech on May 10 would testify to.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Northwestern U. types are miffed they didn’t get a Hollywood celebrity to speak at their graduation ( Perhaps they’d prefer the Law School’s commencement speaker?

The Dalai Lama (,0,1022702.story) would have been a catch.

So who is speaking at which college for the honor and glory of receiving ( an honorary degree?

I realize he was academically distinguished, but Robert Jay Lifton managed to leave a ( number of students under-whelmed when he gave a commencement address in 1987.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mich., Fla., delegates count for only half

A half-person.

That is the proposed solution for allowing the states of Michigan and Florida to have representation at the Democratic National Convention even though their states violated rules concerning when they could schedule their primary elections for 2008.

FACED WITH THE prospect of 48 states deciding who gets the party’s presidential nomination, officials have been looking for a way to include Florida and Michigan at the nominating convention in Denver without making it look like a sullen child getting away without being punished for their misbehavior.

Attorneys for the Democratic Party want their rules committee on Saturday to approve a measure that would give each state only half the representation at the convention that their population normally would entitle them to.

Whether that means delegates from Detroit and Tampa and other places in the two states will only count for half a person each, or if it means only half as many people get to spend a week staying in luxury hotels in Denver for the convention has yet to be determined.

The practical way would be to give the states smaller delegations. But that likely would result in snubbed feelings from those local politicos who had their hearts set on a week away from the spouse and being able to walk around Denver thinking of themselves as big-shots doing important business for the people of the United States of America.

SO WE’RE LIKELY going to get the sight this summer of people from Florida and Michigan carrying the designation of being worth only half a political person. On the surface, it reeks of the mentality of the old South of the early 19th century when African-American people were just Negroes who only counted for 60 percent of a person.

I can already hear the rants and rages from social conservatives, claiming that the Democratic Party is the political outfit that reduced the people of the great states of Michigan and Florida down to partial people – unlike the Republican Party which doesn’t seem to care that elections officials tried to jump the gun on holding their primary elections out of a belief that it would increase their influence.

The problem is that those rants will be nonsense. There is a legitimate issue involved in state political parties trying to place their personal interests ahead of the national party, when the election at stake is for a federal government office such as president.

If this were a case of an election for a local or statewide office, then local officials would be justified in thinking that the national party is butting into matters that are none of its business.

IF ANYONE IS reducing the voters of Michigan and Florida to partial political representation at the nominating convention, it is the political powers-that-be in those two states. Voters in the two states ought to hold it against them the next time they seek whatever local offices they hold and seriously think of dumping them from politics.

Of course, that won’t happen. That would require people to take the time and energy to find out exactly who the party bosses are in their states and to determine what local government offices give them their influence.

That’s a lot of work. It’s easier to just blame Barack Obama, which is the tactic that Hillary R. Clinton has used in the past few weeks – trying to make it appear as though it is Obama’s fault that the states knowingly violated rules concerning the scheduling of primary elections.

While I understand that all 50 states ought to have some say at the nominating convention in Denver, it always struck me as ironic that Obama (the candidate who actually followed ‘the letter of the law’ in removing his name from the ballot in one state and not campaigning in either) was the guy who would wind up getting penalized by the whole mess.

CLINTON WON THOSE two controversial primaries because she remained on the ballots and made sure that voters in those two states knew of that fact.

She now claims that the votes she got in those two primaries rightfully belong to her national voter tally, which is an essential part of any argument she might make that her campaign has any legitimate right to be considered for the presidential nomination.

She ran against nobody in either state, and barely won those primaries. People who would have backed Barack were choosing to be “undeclared.” If anything, Clinton ought to be embarrassed to try to include Michigan and Florida in her column of supporters.

Michigan and Florida political people ought to feel greater shame because their intent in scheduling their primary elections so early in the process was an attempt to increase their states’ influence on the presidential campaigns. Perhaps their mothers never taught them when they were young to wait their turn.

THEY THOUGHT THAT by going so early, they would be able to impose their will on the country. It didn’t work.

If anything, the ultimate punishment for those two states is that by holding an election that early, they made themselves less relevant.

They would have been better off conducting their primaries at their usual time in late February, rather than trying to shoot for a month earlier. In this extremely unusual campaign cycle, it is the states bringing up the tail end of the primary season that have the greatest influence – Puerto Rico will gain more attention this week than Michigan or Florida did from their early primaries.

How odd is Primary ’08? Take this trivial tidbit into consideration.

OF ALL THE states in our region (those Midwestern ones that border one of the Great Lakes), Illinois has the largest population and most delegates to the Democratic convention. Yet it likely has been the least influential.

Places like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio all got more attention from the presidential campaigns. Michigan would have too, had they played by the rules and held their primary when they were supposed to.

Which Great Lakes state had the biggest influence on the Democratic presidential primary? Arguably, it was Indiana – the one Midwestern Great Lakes state whose rural nature makes it a reliable outpost for the modern-day Republican Party.

Clinton’s miniscule victory in that state (combined with a big Obama win in North Carolina) is what appears to have convinced a significant number of the super-delegates and other party powerbrokers to finally “get off the pot” and back Barack instead of Hillary.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Michigan and Florida political people may only count for half a political person ( from another state.

Will Michigan really matter much ( to Democrats if polls indicating a preference for Republican John McCain are accurate?

Aside from trying to get full inclusion of the delegations from Florida and Michigan to the Democratic convention, Hillary Clinton is trying to get super-delegates to change ( their minds and support her instead of Barack Obama.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Would Bush really grant Ryan a pardon?

What are the chances that President George W. Bush, on his final day in office in January 2009, grants a pardon for former Illinois Gov. George Ryan – thereby commuting his sentence to time served?

I know that the very thought of anything other than Ryan dying in prison will make a segment of the Illinois population very unhappy, and that there likely was a feeling of joy going through the minds of certain people when they learned Tuesday that the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Ryan’s appeal.

BUT I HAVE to admit that when I first learned that Ryan had failed in his last legitimate chance at a successful legal appeal and elimination of his prison sentence, my thoughts turned to Bush.

It seems inevitable that every single outgoing president has a pardon controversy. Ronald Reagan showed compassion to those caught up in the Iran-Contra affair, while Bill Clinton was accused of giving pardons to people who had previously been his campaign contributors.

Would Bush feel any sort of compassion for Ryan, who currently is 74 and would be pushing age 80 by the time he finishes “his time” – assuming he actually lives that long.

I wonder if Ryan’s age and health factors (he’s diabetic and suffers from Crohn’s Disease – an inflammatory bowel disease) could sway Bush into showing some compassion.

AFTER ALL, HE’S old and sick, and by January 2009 would have served just over one year of his life in a prison environment. Some might think that sufficient punishment for Ryan’s infractions (which amount to looking the other way and ignoring the fact that his staffers in the Illinois secretary of state’s office were soliciting bribes).

For those who think Ryan is at some sort of “country club,” he’s not. After beginning time at the minimum-security prison in Oxford, Wis., he was transferred (in large part because of his age and health conditions) to the minimum-security work camp that is a part of the maximum-security federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

That means he’s working in an environment where he’s in the shadows of one of the most intense prison environments in the country – Terre Haute is the facility where the federal government houses its “death row” inmates and performs its executions (the last of which were Timothy McVeigh and Juan Garza in the summer of 2001).

An argument can be made that the last thing the federal government really needs is to have to deal with Ryan’s declining health.

THERE’S ALSO THE fact that since the criminal conviction was kept intact (never overturned, despite vociferous written opinions by various appeals court judges), the loss of his sizable government pension remains in place.

He’s penniless and sick. What more is there for George Ryan to lose? Unless you are of the perspective that justice will only come if he gets knifed by a fellow inmate during a cafeteria brawl, then there isn’t much of a purpose to continuing to keep him in Indiana.

Ryan could easily slink back to the Kankakee area and live out his life as a broken man, which was the fate of Ryan’s opponent in the 1990 campaign for Illinois secretary of state – Jerry Cosentino. He got caught up in his own federal corruption trial and died with a criminal conviction, and only avoided prison because he sold his house to pay for the attorneys who kept him free. At the time of his death, he was broke and lived with his daughter.

Of course, I’m not completely convinced Bush would grant the pardon, although I expect him to grant a few to his political allies who managed to get into trouble during the past few years.

THE PROBLEM IS, Ryan may have been of the Republican Party, but they had ceased to be political allies.

Bush was the Texas governor who presided over so many executions (about one every two weeks at their peak), while Ryan was the guy who presided only over one (Andrew Kokoraleis), had trouble bringing himself to allow it to happen and wound up stirring up national attention against the death penalty when he imposed the still-intact moratorium against executions in Illinois.

Could I see Bush deciding to ignore a Ryan pardon application on the grounds that he doesn’t want to dignify anything related to the Ryan record – which includes death penalty opposition?

I could.

IN FACT, I wonder if people who talk about a pardon for Ryan are as misguided as the attorneys for Garza, the Brownsville, Texas, drug dealer who was put to death for a series of murders along the U.S./Mexico border, who actually appealed to Bush for clemency, saying they believed Bush would look at the death penalty differently now that he was president, and not just a Texas governor.

People who talk about pardons for Ryan note that dozens of people will be put on a list for Bush’s consideration. They want to believe it would be easy for Ryan to slip through, unnoticed.

Except that when it is Ryan, everything he will ever do for the rest of his life will gain extra attention. People who want him punished because of his activities with the death penalty (or those who seriously believe he “killed those kids” when an improperly-licensed Illinois truck driver caused an accident that killed six people) will ensure that his name shoots to the top, and a Ryan pardon would wind up being yet another blot on the legacy of George W. Bush.

So what is the Ryan legacy?

THERE ARE THOSE who want to spin it so that it is nothing more than a political official who went to prison.

I honestly believe that is a ridiculously narrow view from people who resent the fact that Ryan forced the concept of capital punishment in this country to be debated by government officials.

Ryan is the political official who was willing to address the issue of flaws in his state’s capital crimes statute at a time when the Illinois General Assembly wanted to ignore the issue and pass it on to someone else.

That doesn’t really warrant the Nobel Prize – as some people have tried in recent years to pursue on Ryan’s behalf.

BUT IT LIKELY will be the reason that a pardon request will not be taken seriously. The issue’s existence is the reason no one can rationally discuss the Ryan legacy.

And it is the reason why I still keep a photograph of Ryan hanging on my office wall (the picture is of Ryan being interviewed by myself during the 1997 Illinois State Fair in Springfield). He was an old-school politico who got things done and didn’t get caught up in the political partisanship that has poisoned modern-day politics.

And he also was one of the most interesting characters I will ever write about.


EDITOR’S NOTES: George Ryan’s hometown newspaper, the Daily Journal of Kankakee, does its own pondering of the possibilities of a presidential ( pardon for the former governor.

As expected, the federal prosecutors who handled Ryan’s criminal case don’t want a presidential pardon (,0,6489600.story), seeing any granting of clemency as a blotch on their own legal legacies.

Aside from surprise that the criminal conviction actually withstood legal appeals, my basic viewpoint of George Ryan hasn’t changed ( much since his final day in office in 2003.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hillary dismissal of ’92 Illinois primary a bigger lie than her comparison to RFK

When Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary R. Clinton recently managed to offend people with her apparent comparison between Barack Obama and Robert F. Kennedy (who was killed in mid-campaign in 1968), it wasn’t the most outrageous thing a political person ever said.

It wasn’t the most ridiculous statement to ever come from Hillary’s own mouth (remember her recollection of her 1996 trip to Bosnia?). For that matter, it wasn’t even the biggest lie from Clinton that very day.

I ACTUALLY TAKE greater offense at the other part of that same statement she made Friday during an interview in South Dakota (where the primary season wraps up June 3), when she tried to re-write history and claim that there is nothing unusual about a losing political campaign that continues to fight into the summer months.

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?,” is what came out of her mouth when she spoke with the editorial board of the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls, S.D. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

Actually, Bill Clinton wrapped up that nomination for the right to challenge incumbent President George H.W. Bush by mid-March. I remember that because it was his primary victory in Illinois that supposedly ensured Clinton would be the nominee – rather than Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown or any of the other Democratic dreamers from that year.

That was the year that Harkin gained early momentum by winning the caucuses in his home state of Iowa, but then found out the rest of the nation had no interest in his candidacy. Tsongas took New Hampshire, but then Clinton started coming on strong in the following primaries.

BY ILLINOIS’ PRIMARY election, most of the other Democrats had dropped out of the race or were so financially strapped that they were unable to do any more serious campaigning.

For Hillary to say that Bill Clinton didn’t get the nomination until the California primary is a case of using a fact to tell a lie. The nomination was his long before that particular primary in June.

In fact, most presidential primaries wrap up after about a month of serious campaigning because the losing candidates don’t have the money to justify continued activity. We usually know by early April at the latest who is going to be the nominee for the two major political parties.

That is what makes the 2008 Democratic primary so unique – because it didn’t get wrapped up early like it always did in Hillary’s political fantasies. This was a case where two candidates each have a significant chunk of the electorate that seriously believes in their abilities and wants to see them in the White House.

I DON’T DOUBT the sincerity of those people who back Hillary Clinton and would like to see her as president.

But for Clinton to come out with comments implying that there’s anything typical about this campaign cycle is just a lie.

If she wants to remain in the running because she thinks there’s a serious chance that a technicality will enable her to get the nomination for president, she ought to just come right out and admit it.

A slight majority of Democrats appear to want Obama to be their political party’s nominee in the Nov. 4 elections for president. But Clinton is willing to accept the nomination under any circumstances – even under ones that might stir up resentment from the masses of Obama people who in the past have shown little interest in the Democratic Party – or electoral politics in general.

IN FACT, THAT is why I was not offended by the second part of Clinton’s comments in South Dakota – the part that referred to Bobby Kennedy.

Some take it as evidence that she would like to see someone take a shot at Obama, thereby clearing the way for her to get the nomination similar to how Kennedy’s presidential bid was leading the field of primary candidates up to the point of his death in Los Angeles on June 5.

It is an unfortunate remark for Hillary to make, because the sad reality is that the possibility of someone trying to attack Obama is a very real possibility in today’s political and social climate. Security around Obama is very aware of the threat and is trying to take what few measures are possible to prevent such an incident from occurring.

But there are no guarantees.

SHE SHOULD HAVE known better than to say anything that could imply the threat of physical harm, although I will take her at her word that she didn’t mean she really hopes for an attack on Obama sometime soon.

But this is a case of a political person coming out and saying what is really on their mind. Hillary Clinton gave us an insight into her inner thought process and confirmed the worst suspicions of many political people.

What Clinton wants is for something – anything, a scandal of sort – to come along that would be so devastating that political people would feel compelled to shift their previously pledged support from Obama to Clinton.

She wants something to happen that will ensure Obama cannot be a political force, now or in the future. She wants him to be damaged goods of such a high degree that he would be unable to run for re-election to his U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.

IN HILLARY CLINTON’S world of political fantasies, Obama would have to seriously contemplate resigning immediately from the Senate, and would never be able to run for elective office again.

She may not want him literally dead, but she wants him deceased politically.

That’s the problem with candidates who become movements – people follow them so closely and put their interests ahead of political party. As long as people see that Obama is a viable alternative, they would be inspired to ignore much of anything Clinton wants.

That is why it never made sense politically that Obama would be a vice presidential choice under Clinton Some might literally figure it is worth doing nothing now so that a “President Obama” could act in the future and get credit for the achievements.

THAT DIFFERENCE IN viewpoints is what has created the current split among Democrats that party officials ought to be making a priority of trying to close. It is not a bad thing that two Democratic candidates created such intense interest in the presidential elections that the number of people who bothered to vote is at all-time highs.

But it is bad if the split creates lasting hostility.

And it is this hostility that has built up between the two camps that will prevent either from working too closely with the other in the near future. The best we can likely hope for is a cool co-existence.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Hillary Clinton is still drawing grief for her comments in South Dakota ( that reminded people of the fate of Robert F. Kennedy. For his part, Barack Obama is trying to rise ( above the moment.

The Argus-Leader (I love their name) gets its moment of national attention for its attempt to ( draw out Clinton to say something honest. They succeeded.

It was interesting to remember that Bill Clinton wasn’t always seen as the candidate ( of choice for the African-American vote, as noted in this recollection of the 1992 presidential primary in Illinois.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Budget battle tangles Illinois Legislature

Back in the days when he was the all-powerful chairman of House ways and means, Dan Rostenkowski would tell a story of his early years in Congress, when he had just managed to move “up and out” to Washington after serving a couple of terms in the Illinois General Assembly.

Illinois’ political geeks were trying to put together the map of legislative district boundaries for the 1960s. Rostenkowski decided he wanted to play the role of powerbroker – the D.C. big shot who would craft a plan for the people of Illinois.

IT NEVER HAPPENED that way, because the political leaders let Rostenkowski know that his input was not desired – he should “butt out.”

It’s too bad nobody gave former congressmen J. Dennis Hastert and Glenn Poshard the same advice. The two retired politicos spent their time in recent weeks trying to craft a list of capital projects that Illinois government could provide to communities across the state.

But their efforts may have been a waste of time, as any attempt to approve a capital projects plan is bogged down in the mess of approving a budget for state government’s upcoming fiscal year.

The "Statehouse in Springpatch" has the potential to (again) be a place of gloom and doom for political people this summer. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said all spring he wants the General Assembly to approve a capital projects program, in addition to a government budget. He recruited the retired members of Congress, picking the two because of the appearance of bipartisanship (Hastert of the GOP and Poshard of the Democrats).

THE TACTIC DIDN’T work. The list of nearly $31 million worth of public works construction and repairs across Illinois is largely being ignored by the General Assembly. The only thing Poshard and Hastert accomplished was getting their names (and reputations) intertwined with the budget morass.

In fact, the current status of the Illinois General Assembly is that everybody is ignoring everybody.

Both the state Senate and Illinois House of Representatives are working to vote on bills that they say would be a budget. Both chambers are passing their own versions of a budget. But there’s no guarantee that any of this will go anywhere because there’s no guarantee their bills will be identical.

To an outsider, it looks as though everybody is trying to set the stage to be able to say that they did their share of the work toward approving a government budget by deadline for fiscal 2009 – it’s the other guy who’s at fault.

THE HOUSE WILL blame the Senate, which will blame the House, and a few people in each chamber will blame Blagojevich, who will blame the General Assembly. Thursday will come and go without a state budget plan in place.

And the General Assembly is likely to spend a chunk of its time this summer in activity in Springfield – just like last year.

Instead of being the powerbrokers who brought their congressional knowledge to the Statehouse to reach a deal, Hastert and Poshard will become the pair of politicos who fell into the Springpatch and couldn’t escape.

Why do I suspect that nothing is in the works?

IF THERE WERE any serious chance of getting a budget deal through the Legislature this week and on to Blagojevich for his final consideration, this weekend would not have been so quiet at the Statehouse.

Literally, this is the week that is supposed to be the culmination of all activity for the General Assembly’s spring 2008 session. The Legislature would have worked through the weekend. All those bills that were introduced that have not yet been killed off are supposed to come up for final votes this week.

The legislative leaders would have been engaged in meetings with each other and with Blagojevich’s financial advisers so as to finalize a deal. This would be “hell week,” with the only fact making the long hours bearable was the knowledge that it is all over after Thursday.

That is not happening because of the mood by which no one trusts anyone else at the Statehouse. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has gone so far as to say that meeting with Blagojevich is a waste of his time because the governor is not the kind of person who wants to bring coalitions together to reach a budget deal – or any other kind of deal.

IF THERE WERE really a chance of something happening this week in Springfield, the Legislature itself would be in session on Memorial Day – albeit in an abbreviated session beginning at, oh, say, 5 p.m., which allows lawmakers to attend whatever holiday parades or other celebrations are taking place in their hometowns during the day.

Then, they could rush to the Statehouse for a late night session that could result in them learning more details about how close all the sides are to a budget proposal by which Illinois government would operate beginning July 1.

Instead, legislators are able to devote their entire day Monday to the holiday, making speeches and other comments to show off their great patriotism in hopes that it will translate into a few more votes when they run for re-election come Nov. 4.

Try asking your local legislator what is going to happen with the state budget once he/she returns to the Statehouse Tuesday morning. Nobody knows.

EVERYBODY TALKS OF wanting to make a priority of avoiding the long, drawn-out procedure that occurred last year – when the Legislature didn’t approve a budget for state government until mid-August, and on-going problems that should have been dealt with during the spring didn’t get resolved until early 2008 (remember the repeated crisis situations related to Chicago mass transit?)

But short of some sudden, unexpected ability to put aside political egos and negotiate, there’s no reason to expect that the scenario will not be repeated this year.

So what do we get to look forward to?

Lawmakers talk of passing some barebones spending plan that keeps government running at its current levels (which means anything innovative or new or desperately needed won’t happen this year).

TO THAT END, the state Senate approved its own version of a budget that only increases spending by $1.7 billion. Public education as a whole across all of Illinois only gets a $200 million increase, which is piddly considering that Blagojevich likes to think public education funding is his priority.

Come Friday, both the Senate and House likely will make statements saying they’re done for the summer.

They’d like to think that passing a budget will pressure Blagojevich into signing it into law just to avoid a stink. But if the Legislature doesn’t go along and accept the goal of a capital projects plan that Blagojevich has always said is a priority, then there’s always the good chance he could veto.

That would mean lawmakers being forced to return to Springfield during the hot, humid summer months that make everybody irritable. In fact, if I had to bet money on what will happen in the next few weeks, this would be my guess.

WE WILL HAVE an irritated Legislature trying to pass a new budget plan into law in late June, trying to beat the end-of-month deadline when the lack of a budget could result in shutdowns of government agencies.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich will be preparing to make statements blaming the Legislature for all that is wrong with the political world.

And if they have any sense, Hastert and Poshard will have “butted out” of the Statehouse mess long before then. I can’t imagine any political person being enough of a masochist to willingly subject themselves to the inanity of the current Statehouse mess.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Former Reps. J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Glenn Poshard, D-Ill., tried to be the big-shot powerbrokers (,0,3962323.story) that brought compromise to the Illinois General Assembly. Our state’s legislature once again proved itself immune to a dose of common sense.

Anybody who was hoping Illinois state government would give them a little bit extra funding this year (,0,7309229.story) can forget it.

Among the state’s financial problems this year are the growing size of debt related ( to its pension programs for various types of government employees.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don’t look at me; I don’t want the job

Learning this week that Gov. Rod Blagojevich definitely is looking to hire a new press secretary made me feel a twinge of sympathy for the yet-to-be determined person who takes the job.

Somebody is going to have to walk into utter chaos, a situation in state government where nobody trusts nobody (just like Chicago City Hall) and everybody is looking out for number one, while figuring out if they need to do a number two on somebody else.

IT WAS JUST this week on the “Illinois Lawmakers” program (a long-running PBS institution in Illinois) that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, dumped all the blame for Illinois government’s problems on Blagojevich.

Why doesn’t anyone trust Blagojevich?

The governor, Madigan said, is the kind of person who “tries to pull people apart” rather than build coalitions of government people that might accomplish something.

It is the press secretary who had to come up with a response to Madigan’s cheap shot, knowing full well that the speaker of the house has a long memory and will not forget who it was that took shots back at him.

IF ANYTHING, IT is a position for somebody who does not have a desire to have a long-standing career working in Illinois government, but would like to be able to say they witnessed government up close – as preparation for doing something else with their lives.

The governor’s political enemies will soon become the press secretary’s enemies, and their face will forever become associated with the name Blagojevich.

I have never been one to agree with the press corps jokes about people going over to “the dark side” when they take a government spokesman position. I actually believe that one can do worthwhile work in such a position in terms of making it possible for the general public to understand just what it is their tax dollars are being used for.

Some of the most decent people I ever knew on public payrolls were press secretaries. Of course, some of the laziest hacks I have ever known also held the job.

NOT THAT I’M desperate enough to try to show I could do better.

I could use better paying, more stable employment than the little bits of work I am doing these days, but the mental aggravation that a new press secretary will have to put up with working for Blagojevich is not worth it.

Now out of a sense of disclosure, I should admit that I actually circulated my resume to Blagojevich’s people about four years ago for a possible press-related job, and I actually interviewed for a job two years ago when Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan needed a new press secretary.

I didn’t get hired either time, and I have come to see both of those non-hirings as blessings in disguise. I am of such a temperament that I likely would use choice obscenities to tell off the first person (reporter-type or political geek) who annoyed me – which would result in my immediate dismissal.

I ALSO FIND my interest in government-related issues is in the institution itself. I don’t think I could ever make myself so loyal to a single individual that I would be willing to engage in the political sparring that often takes place between government agencies or constitutional officers – even if they are of the same political party. (Anybody who thinks that every single Democrat is supposed to love and respect every other Dem is naïve. The same goes for Republicans).

I don’t know how I would handle the barrage of questions that Blagojevich people are going to get in the coming months related to the forces among Republicans, disaffected Democrats and criminal prosecutors – all of whom want to peddle the notion that the Illinois governor is on his way to prison.

I probably would be too inclined to call people on their partisan desires to see a criminal conspiracy at work, and that would not necessarily be good for the people of Illinois.

Political people have to know when not to be brutally honest. That does not mean I am saying they should lie. Most just know when to shut up and say nothing, even if it means they look ignorant to the press corps.

IN FACT, THE biggest trouble that a government spokesman can get into is if they are caught passing along deliberately deceiving information. That is when the press secretary becomes worthless and ought to be fired – what’s the point of paying them if nobody is going to believe what they say?

When I worked as a reporter type for various wire services or newspapers, I never expected government press people (and yeah, I’m calling them press secretaries, even if that technically offends the broadcast geeks of the world) to dump stories into my lap.

I always figured the press secretary/communications director/spokesman/whatever you want to call it existed to double-check statistics for government stories, or to provide statements from the governor on the ongoing issues of the day.

That person also ought to be able to give advice to their politically-elected boss as to how to avoid doing something stupid that will create a public image problem – and also avoid wasted time and tax dollars from being spent fighting off controversies.

IT’S NOT THAT I think the politician’s public image is all that important, but I do have respect for the positions these elected officials hold and for the institution that is Illinois state government, Chicago city government or any other governmental institution.

The best press secretaries are the ones who realize they are working for the institution and are doing their part to keep it running soundly and on behalf of the people whose taxes fund the essential services that government can best provide.

Too much of the problem with the Blagojevich administration is that it gives off the perception that it considers the fate of Rod himself to be more important than that of the state of Illinois.

A GOOD PRESS secretary will be able to stand up to that notion and know who to put first – the taxpayers of Illinois.

So as the state/Blagojevich figures out who will be their new press aide, we all ought to take into account the high-profile tension that the job’s recipient will undergo. That person will get my sympathy – at least until they start trying to pass along deliberate untruths to the public.

And despite my sincere interest in the workings of Illinois government, you couldn’t pay me enough to take the job.


EDITOR’S NOTES: If you want to apply (or to know seriously just what a governor expects from a political mouthpiece), the job has been posted ( on the Internet.

For those of you who want to make jokes about a gubernatorial spokesman, the Capitol Fax weblog had a feisty debate ( going earlier this week.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Obama’s “up and out” presidential move creates political shifts for U.S., Illinois

In a sign that Democrats are adjusting to the concept of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as their party’s nominee for president this year, the attention of the party faithful is shifting away from the primary and toward figuring out who else gets a boost up from Obama’s political coat-tails.

Nobody (outside of the most hard-core members of Camp Clinton) seems to care much about what Hillary Clinton is saying. They want to know who’s going to get a bump up (and nobody except for those most hard-core of members thinks it will be Hillary) from Obama.

BUT HERE’S THE difference between Chicago political junkies (those people who think that the most powerful political position on Planet Earth is destined to be held by a descendent of Richard J. Daley), who want to know who would get the U.S. senate seat from Illinois if Obama wins on Nov. 4.

The rest of the world’s political observers want to know which white guy gets to be the first ‘second banana’ ever to a bi-racial presidential hopeful. Vice President is on their minds.

In what appears to be the worst kept secret in electoral politics today, Obama is seeking the help of political people who have helped past presidential nominees in choosing a running mate.

To the Chicago political junkie mentality, this was the true "big story" of the day, not the latest in the ongoing saga of Drew Peterson or talk about vice presidents.

The secretive nature (which has only been reported by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CBS News and the Atlantic, just to name a few) of this vice presidential search is because Obama realizes he has not officially clinched the presidential nomination. He could theoretically turn into the political version of the Chicago Cubs and pull a late primary collapse of historic proportions.

BUT OBAMA ALSO realizes that if he is to have a vice presidential selection ready to appear with him during the summer months and in Denver at the Democratic National Convention in August, he has to start looking now.

Speculation says Obama will search for the whitest, most blue collar-appealing political person he can find so as to moderate the fact that he clearly is not the type of person who would “fit in” in a place like West Virginia.

The vice presidential nominee will be someone of moderate to conservative social beliefs whose cooperation with Obama will be used as a sign that Obama can work with people of all political beliefs – even though he himself falls on the liberal side of the social spectrum.

If anyone thinks that such a strategy is ridiculous, keep in mind that Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is considering something similar – in reverse.

I COULDN’T HELP but notice that among the political people being invited to a social event at McCain’s home in Sedona, Ariz., is newly elected Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – whose parents came to the United States from India. A McCain/Jindal top of the ticket for the Republican Party would (in a sense) balance out the exotic/conventional pairing that likely will take place on Democratic ballots for the Nov. 4 elections.

I can already hear the comparisons from social conservatives. Jindal is the man who actually changed his first name from Piyush to something he thought sounded more “American” and who has gone out of his way to downplay his ethnic background. They will contrast that to the man named “Barack” whose background is so different from their own.

Would it work?

One can never underestimate the appeal of racial- or ethnic-based campaign strategies. They’re ugly, but they can scare a certain type of voter. Considering that a Gallup Organization survey released Thursday showed Obama with a slim 47 percent to 44 percent lead over McCain, it wouldn’t take much of a shift to put the Republicans in the presidential lead.

BUT THERE’S ALWAYS the possibility Obama might just go all out in being different from any other campaign – he might go for a woman as a running mate, particularly if he can find one with moderate political beliefs.

Someone like Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano or Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius could be a way of reaching out to the women who are disappointed that their choice of Clinton did not get the nomination.

Some have even tossed out the possibility of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson – who is of Mexican ethnicity on his mother’s side of the family. But having the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a presidential cabinet member reduced to the level of the ceremonial rituals that vice presidents do might be considered too low a drop for him to consider seriously.

It also is the reason why picking Hillary Clinton as vice president is a ridiculous suggestion – she is going to want something more significant. Considering how much support she got for her presidential bid, she probably is entitled to it.

BUT TO SOME Chicago political people, all of this speculation is pointless. Unless there was a chance that Obama would pick another Chicago City Hall type to be his vice presidential nominee, they don’t really care who gets to run ribbons at ceremonies and make ritual trips to the less prominent foreign countries of the world.

They want to know which local political person gets to go to Washington to serve in the U.S. Senate, making that person one of the Big Four of Illinois politics (Mayor Richard M. Daley, Sen. Richard Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich are currently the other three).

Admittedly, it is just a “SneedScoop,” which means there’s a good chance that it’s wrong. But the Chicago Sun-Times’ columnist Michael Sneed reported Thursday that Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth would be Blagojevich’s likely choice to replace Obama, should he move “up and out” from Illinois.

For those with short memories, Duckworth is the disabled military veteran (she lost part of a leg fighting in Iraq) who had never considered a political career until the Democrats put her up to running for a congressional seat in the Chicago western suburbs in 2006.

SHE NARROWLY LOST that campaign to Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. Her reward for enduring the campaign was her current job as Blagojevich’s top person in dealing with veterans’ issues. Now, he may move her “up and out” to Washington, in a much more prominent post than she would have got had she won in ’06.

Some might think Duckworth is not experienced enough to warrant consideration for a Senate seat. They might view this as yet another example of Blagojevich’s irresponsibility as governor.

Yet something about this appointment rings true – even for the cynical motivations that there would be a U.S. senator totally beholden to Blagojevich (something he wants at a time when Republicans and rural Democrats in Illinois are banding together with Chicago Democrat malcontents into an outspoken coalition that constantly denounces his every move).

Also, her personal story would make her instantly one of the most prominent members of the U.S. Senate (which likely would make the three-decade veterans of that chamber jealous). What Republican is going to have the nerve to attack a woman who suffered her injuries while piloting a military helicopter that was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade?


EDITOR’S NOTES: The secret’s out. Barack Obama is starting to try to figure out who he wants ( to be his vice-presidential running mate. Republican challenger John McCain is also looking, but he’s not pretending that it’s a secret.

Tammy Duckworth in the U.S. Senate makes sense for Rod Blagojevich on certain levels, no matter how many (,CST-NWS-SNEED22.article) longer-serving political people get their feelings hurt at being passed over. For those who don’t remember (,1,3297221.story?coll=chi-news-hed), Duckworth is a military veteran who has not let her combat-caused disabilities prevent her from getting ahead in life.

Obama has a large lead over Hillary R. Clinton in the nationwide polls and a slim lead ( over McCain, if the general election were to be held today. That makes this as good a time as any to start thinking of who will move “up and out” if an Obama presidency becomes a reality.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Veeck may return to family's Illinois roots

When it comes to professional baseball, the Veeck family is a batch of travelers from Illinois.

While many remember Bill for his stunts while operating the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, along with minor league ball clubs in Milwaukee and Miami, the fact is that he was the two-time owner of the Chicago White Sox because they were his hometown team (born in Chicago, he grew up in DuPage County).

THE ELDER STATESMAN of the Veeck family, William Sr., was the Chicago newspaperman-turn-equivalent of general manager of the Chicago Cubs – and he was the guy who put together those teams that actually made the Cubs a baseball power back during the depression.

That’s why it has always been a bit odd that Veeck son (and grandson) Mike had to make his baseball reputation outside of Chicago, as operator of the company that owns the St. Paul Saints and also runs teams in Charleston, S.C., Fort Myers, Fla., and Sioux Falls, S.D., just to name a few.

But now, there’s a chance that Veeck will come back to Illinois to work his promotional stunts that try to make the act of attending a professional baseball game fun – and not just draining on the wallet and/or credit card.

Specifically, officials in Normal, Ill., want to have a professional baseball team in their community (it would be a first ever, although neighboring Bloomington once had teams in the old “Three Eye” League). They are willing to build a new stadium for a team to share with the Heartland Community College athletic program.

THIS WEEK, THEY learned that their professional ball club might very well be owned by Mike Veeck, who runs a company that specializes in operating minor league teams. The youngest baseball Veeck is looking to get more teams in professional leagues not directly affiliated with major league baseball.

So the man who throughout the years has come up with “Vasectomy Night,” hired nuns to work as masseuses and used pigs to work as “ball boys” may soon take on an Illinois team.

In one sense, he owes us a share of experiencing his unique brand of minor league ball. Mike Veeck’s brainchild when he worked menial jobs for the White Sox (similar to how father Bill once performed menial tasks at Wrigley Field working for his father) was to come up with the still-remembered Disco Demolition Night of 1979.

Letting us Chicagoans see his stunts up close (without having to make a lengthy drive to St. Paul or Charleston) would be the way to let us put the memory of a trashed ball field to rest.

SUCH A MOVE also would be a plus for this state’s sporting, and entertainment, scene.

I have been to minor league baseball games in Crestwood, Geneva, Joliet and Schaumburg, along with Peoria and Davenport, Iowa. I also used to enjoy following the old Springfield Cardinals, Sultans of Springfield and Springfield Capitals during the stint I lived in Illinois’ capital city.

Some of those baseball operations are considered among the tops of the minor leagues and others have long glorious histories of supporting low-level professional ball clubs.

But the actual scene for a fan attending a game is cheap and schlock-y. The reason?

MOST OF THESE minor league promoters really don’t have much of an imagination – even though they claim to be putting on a spectacle to keep their fans amused enough to keep plunking down money for hot dogs and beer.

Every single minor league game I have ever attended included a between-innings spectacle known as the “dizzy bat race.” Every team had a fuzzy mascot (with the exception of the old Capitals, who had a guy in an Uncle Sam suit and a giant baseball for a head) that raced a child around the base paths.

Every team had some sort of prize giveaway that was totally worthless (such as a broken-down automobile). In short, minor league ball in Illinois has developed a certain sameness to it.

One literally has to look at the colors of the grass-stained laundry worn by the ballplayers to figure out if we’re in Peoria or Joliet – both of which have developed nice, small-scale stadiums in their downtown areas, although looking out beyond right field at Davenport’s O’Donnell Stadium gives one of the best scenic views available (the mighty Mississippi River) to a minor league operation.

ALL TOO OFTEN, minor league baseball has become an excuse for a lot of people to make significant money off souvenirs and concessions – except for the ballplayers, who at that level usually take in a few hundred dollars per month for the duration of the season.

An imaginative operator has the potential to stand out. If Veeck were to follow through with his talk and actually buy his way into a new team, Normal could become the pre-eminent minor league baseball franchise in Illinois. It could be the one place where fans are justified in making a special trip to see a ballgame.

Now Normal is a college town. The local sports scene focuses on Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State sports, particularly men’s basketball. I wonder if local officials have the ability to see beyond what they already have and appreciate how a ballclub could boost their town’s image (albeit in the symbolic gesture type of way that can’t be definitively measured on a spreadsheet)?

Already, there is some complaining about whether public monies ought to be used to build a new stadium (although officials in Crestwood and Marion both used funds from state grants to build stadiums for their teams).

OTHERS JUST GRIPE about having any attraction that brings people to their community, preferring the thought of isolation – until they realize that isolated places have very little in the way of tax revenues coming in.

As I understand it, Veeck would want to have any Normal-based team play in the Frontier League, an operation that originally began in West Virginia and southern Ohio but now stretches across the Midwest and has Illinois ball clubs in Crestwood, Marion, Rockford and Sauget.

A Normal team would be centrally located to all of those teams and would provide yet another athletic rival, although most people who go to minor league games usually have no clue as to the actual ballplayers.

CONSIDERING THAT MOST of these kids will see their athletic dreams die in places like Normal, it is no wonder they are soon forgotten. But the joy of minor league baseball can be that its small scale allows you to get up so close to the field that you can see in great detail the skills needed to excel at the game.

There also is the off chance of seeing future talent – although one doesn’t get to realize exactly what they have experienced for about four or five years.

To me, when the Chicago White Sox won the American League pennant and World Series in 2005, one aspect that gave me personal pleasure was the inclusion of reserve infielder Pablo Ozuna.

MOST FANS HAD never heard of the guy before that year, or thought he was just a schlep who couldn’t hang on with a major league team. To me, he was the guy I saw up close back in 1998 when (for some reason) I went to a string of Peoria Chiefs games and he was the star shortstop and leadoff hitter who sparked the Chiefs that season.

Professional baseball at any level has its joys. It is the ultimate evidence that baseball is a game that should be enjoyed live, and that having to watch games on television ought to be considered punishment.

Once you realize that, all the silly stunts are tolerable – even the mascot race, since the only times he wins is when he cheats. But if Veeck the youngest were to actually gain a ball club within driving distance of Chicago (Normal is about a two-hour drive each way), then there just might be crowds of people driving on down Interstate 55 on game days.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Mike Veeck is making a living off of focusing attention on the baseball crowds (, rather than the on-field activity. Pay him enough, and he’ll come speak to your group about making money off of having fun.

Some officials in Normal, Ill., want to have their own professional baseball team come ( the 2010 season.

This older interview with Veeck reflects the spirit that could soon be coming to Illinois (, should he manage to gain control of a downstate team. It’s too bad his business group couldn’t buy its way into one of the minor league clubs that exist on the fringes of the Chicago area.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Obama overtakes Clinton (It's about time!)

The presidential backers of Hillary R. Clinton want to think that her dream of working in the Oval Office remains alive because of her recent victories in West Virginia and Kentucky – simply put, she kicked Barack Obama’s butt in those two Appalachian states.

Yet a look at the big picture (which is what the presidency is really all about) shows that it is the Obama camp that is gaining in support, which explains why the bulk of super-delegates across the country are finally making up their minds to back Barack when they travel to Denver for the Democratic National Convention in late August.

OBAMA AND CLINTON did the expected on Tuesday – she took Kentucky by almost as big a margin of victory as her 41 percent lead in West Virginia, while Obama appeared to have won the vote-by-mail Democratic primary in Oregon.

But the more interesting results may have come early in the day when the Gallup Organization (which admittedly is the same group that had us thinking Thomas Dewey would be our president in the 1948 election) released its latest results.

After showing earlier this week that Obama had gone from 49 percent of the Democratic vote and a slim 4 percent lead over Clinton at the beginning of May, the group showed Obama with a 16 percent lead and 55 percent of the Democratic vote (with only 39 percent staying with Clinton).

How was that shift possible?

AT LEAST ONE factor should have been expected. The Tuesday results showed 51 percent of Latino voters say they will back Obama, with only 44 percent supporting Clinton.

This is the first poll showing Obama taking a majority of the Latino vote, although previous polls (and common sense observations) have indicated that a significant portion of the Hispanic voter bloc resents being used as a piñata by Republican partisans wishing to score political points with social conservatives.

They had indicated a preference for a Democrat as president, regardless of who receives the party’s nomination. Republican John McCain has a long fight ahead of him if he wants to gain any significant support from Hispanic people.

Obama now supposedly has the lead (who knows how reliable any poll really is?) among people who never went to college (47 percent to 46 percent), women as a whole (49 percent to 46 percent) and people who live in the eastern U.S. (52 percent to 43 percent).

OBAMA REMAINS THE overwhelming favorite among African-American people, but the latest survey shows Clinton cannot claim to be the favorite of white voters (the two are tied at 47 percent apiece).

In fact, there’s really only one group that is remaining loyal to Camp Clinton – women 50 or older. She gets 52 percent of their support, according to Gallup. That, however, is a decline from the 55 percent she got just two weeks ago from those same older women who remember firsthand the fight for equality.

If anything, what these figures really mean is that a majority of the people who plan to vote and are not hostile to the concept of a Democrat as president are accepting the concept that Barack Obama has gained a slight majority of support nationwide, and they are coming around to the idea of voting for him.

It could mean that to Democrats, the so-called scandals that show Obama to be out-of-touch with U.S. society as a whole (retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright, one-time Weatherman-turned-educator Bill Ayers, his Ivy League educational background) don’t amount to much.

IT COULD ALSO mean that the people to whom these “issues” are of significance are people who likely are more conservative than the norm and more than likely were going to wind up voting for a Republican in the Nov. 4 elections. Obama never had their votes, so what did he really lose?

The one potential loss remains the continued support of older women, many of whom legitimately are upset that the notion of a first female president of the United States never turned Hillary Clinton into a symbolic gesture the way being potentially the first African-American president (even though he’s really bi-racial) helped enhance Obama’s image as a political “rock star.”

I can’t envision a lot of the women who consider themselves Democrats are going to turn around and back McCain for president. These women are among the base of people who desperately want the Republicans and anything that can be associated with George W. Bush out of the White House.

But could they “sit out” this election cycle? Anything is possible, and with this election likely to be as close as any election can be (a lot of people who won’t say anything in public will walk into that voting booth on Nov. 4 and suddenly realize they can’t support a black man for president), Obama needs every vote he can get.

HE IS GOING to have to reach out to gain the support of women in the coming weeks, and he had better go about showing some respect to Hillary Clinton (no, vice president for Hillary would be an insult, she deserves something better), and the political pontificators Tuesday night found traces of Obama reaching out to all people in his premature “victory” speech in Des Moines, Iowa.

There had better not be anything that resembles an act of political retribution against her, and she probably will have to receive something resembling a prominent cabinet post or a leadership spot in the U.S. Senate’s Democratic caucus.

But for those hard-core Hillary-ites who will argue that the potential loss of older women due to an Obama candidacy is enough reason to justify having the super-delegates give her the nomination instead, take this into account.

How would the African-American voter bloc (which usually gives about 90 percent of its support to Democratic presidential candidates, no matter which airhead the party has managed to come up with in recent years) respond to seeing their overwhelming preference rejected – not by voters, but by party bigwigs in a blatant political maneuver?

WHAT MAKES ANYONE think there wouldn’t be a massive sit-out by black voters if Hillary Clinton were the nominee? Even a Clinton/McCain political fight would be a close one, and the loss of a voter bloc as significant as the African-American one would be enough to cost Clinton the general election.

Democrats this year came up with at least two quality candidates (four, if one wants to go back a few months and count John Edwards and Bill Richardson) who ran in what is quite possibly the most competitive primary election of our lifetimes.

But once there is a nominee, that candidate has to show he can reach out to all people (or at least all who are not openly hostile – no one expects Obama to get the enthusiastic support of the ‘religious right’).

It’s called compromise, and it is a part of life (even though certain conservatives believe that it is what is wrong with modern-day electoral politics). A candidate who cannot compromise and reach a consensus on issues deserves to lose a general election because, in all likelihood, he would not be able to govern effectively.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Take a look for yourself at the Gallup Organization results that show ( the U.S. voters shifting support to Barack Obama.

It’s all about the delegate counts these days, and Obama is expected to be the winner in that aspect (,0,3985203.story) in Tuesday’s elections in Oregon and Kentucky.

Race remains an issue in this campaign (even if you prefer to think that people who remind you of that fact are, “playing the race card”). Who else would seriously think a t-shirt comparing Obama to the children’s storybook monkey Curious George ( is humorous?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gas prices make my wallet less bloated

I can remember not all that long ago when I would actually make a special trip southeast whenever I wanted to fill my automobile’s tank with gasoline – I justified it on the grounds that a drive across State Line Road into Indiana could get me gasoline for under a dollar a gallon.

I was being a tightwad in making the drive – since I didn’t want to pay the “ridiculous” rate of about $1.20 per gallon, or up to $1.40 if I were to get gasoline at a station near downtown Chicago.

NOW, OF COURSE, it seems like an Impossible Dream (cue “Camelot”) that gasoline was ever that cheap. On Sunday, for the first time in my life, I paid over $4 for a gallon of gasoline. The $15 that once would have nearly filled my car’s gas tank got me barely more than a quarter of a tank, which will keep me moving for a little while.

And today, I learned that the $4.09 per gallon I paid makes me the norm for a Chicago-area motorist – the Lundberg Survey says $4.07 per gallon is the average in Chicago, which makes us the most expensive metropolitan area in the continental United States.

At that price, a trip to Indiana for gasoline comes to a waste of time, particularly since I don’t really notice any significant difference anymore between gasoline prices in Cook County and Lake County, Ind. I’m certainly not going to drive deep into rural Indiana in search of cheap gas. I’d use up more than I’d save.

To "dream, the impossible dream" that gasoline will ever be as cheap as these once-outrageous rates is the status of our automobile-dominated society.

This is just absurd. What logical reason is there for gasoline to be so expensive?

I DON’T WANT to hear about other countries where the price of gasoline has been higher than the equivalent of $4 per gallon for so long that they would dream of gas so cheap. Nor do I want to hear about places like Alaska or Hawaii, where basic commodities have to be shipped in and everything costs more.

I figure anyone who willingly lives in such an isolated place obviously gets so much pleasure from the locale that they accept higher gas and food costs as the price of living in “paradise.”

Besides, as of Monday, the average gasoline price in Anchorage was $3.89 per gallon, with some places selling it for as little as $3.83 per gallon. That’s the price we in much of the Chicago area were paying as recently as the end of last week.

Now some people will argue that these ridiculous gasoline prices are evidence that we ought to rely more on public transportation – which I have no problem with in theory. I am a big fan of the convenience of elevated trains and the Metra suburban commuter trains, which I have used whenever possible during my times living in Chicago proper and some of its surrounding suburbs.

BUT THERE ARE large swaths of the Chicago area to which public transportation is just not convenient (the stations are too far away, or the trains and buses run too infrequently).

Expanding service also isn’t a political reality, because there are too many people who perceive the issue of mass transit as some sort of liberal plot to take away a person’s automobile (just like some suspect the liberals want to take away their guns too!).

We are a car-based society. Why else have these ridiculous gasoline prices not caused a significant drop in the number of motorists?

People still have to get to work and to other places that are a part of their lives, and very few people live in communities where everything is within walking distance or a short bus ride away. I personally am working a job these days requiring me to make about a 20-minute drive, but would require something like two hours and three bus transfers to complete each way if I tried to do it with existing Chicago-area public transportation.

IT’S NOT PRACTICAL. For many people, it’s not possible – even if they wanted to take the bus (which many do not).

We’re hooked on cars, meaning we’re going to keep paying and paying these ridiculous prices (which don’t even make profits for the gas station owners – who are dependent on us buying overpriced slurpees, chips and lottery tickets in significant quantities in order to make a profit) for gasoline.

How about $5 per gallon? It’s not a ridiculous nightmare – it will be a reality, and the gasoline manufacturers know we will do little more than grumble every time we dig into our wallets to pay it.

We need serious relief on this issue. And I mean real relief, not some political hack spewing out rhetoric that amounts to nothing.

THAT IS WHY I actually gained a bit of respect for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama when the whole issue of gasoline prices came up during the campaign a few weeks ago and he was getting smacked around by his opponents for refusing to support talk of easing the federal government portion of the gasoline tax.

In theory, that would reduce the price of gasoline by a few pennies, and some people want to have dreams that those pennies would add up into significant dollars that would remain in the consumer’s wallet.

In reality, the amount is so small, that (based on the Obama campaign’s calculations) the total savings for a “typical” motorist would be about $20 – over the course of the entire summer of 2008.

In my car at the current gas price, $20 is about half a tank. For people who drive those SUV monstrosities to lug their kids around from activity to activity, $20 is as little as a quarter of a tank.

THAT PLAN, PUSHED in slightly different forms by Democrat Hillary R. Clinton and Republican John McCain, would not have offered serious tax relief, but the political people would have spun it to make it appear as though they were doing the American people some great favor.

What impressed me about Obama was that he remembered the “gasoline tax holiday” (that’s the political-speak way of making it sound so cute) that the Illinois General Assembly approved back in 2000 when gas prices were so out of control in this state that they were “threatening” to go over $2 per gallon (remember that?).

Obama voted for it, only to see the gasoline manufacturers boost their own prices so bolster their profit while keeping gas prices overall at the same level. He said he wishes he could have taken that vote back

This was probably one of the few times a public official (particularly one running for president) opening admitted to making a mistake. It is perhaps the only time that a public official appeared to have learned from his mistake – and hopefully will not repeat it again.


EDITOR’S NOTES: A lot of good it does me to know that gasoline in Tuscon, Ariz., goes for $3.48 per gallon, since I (,0,7796647.story) have no intention of moving there anytime soon.

For those of you willing to make a drive (and use up existing gasoline to find slightly-less expensive new gasoline), here is a place (,0,2994228.htmlpage) to find the current gas prices across the Chicago metropolitan area.

Some “experts” seem to think that gasoline prices nationally will “top out” at about ( the level we here in the Chicago area are paying now.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Is Obama ‘tempting fate’ by declaring presidential primary victory too soon?

It’s a good thing that the political people from “The West Wing” are merely fictional characters. Otherwise the conduct of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama would be causing Toby Zeigler to throw a fit.

Zeigler was the presidential speechwriter with a cantankerous temperament played by actor Richard Schiff, and in one memorable episode of that now-defunct television drama about the White House staff, Zeigler engaged in a rant against his staff prematurely celebrating the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice backed by the fictional President Bartlett.

HE KEPT TRYING to tell his staff that “bad things” happen to people who “tempt fate” by declaring victory and celebrating before the political event actually happens.

I can’t help but wonder if we should hire Schiff to reprise his Zeigler character for one day so as to give the Obama campaign a lecture about how silly they could potentially look if they proceed with plans to declare “Victory!” after the Oregon primary on Tuesday.

I don’t doubt that Obama will prevail in the Oregon election-by-mail, just like I fully expect opponent Hillary R. Clinton will be able to declare a victory that same day in Kentucky.

At this point in the primary season, the results of individual states really don’t matter much. That it why it turned out to be rather irrelevant that Obama did so poorly last week in West Virginia. His 40-plus percent loss in the heart of Appalachia did not change the delegate count significantly.

IN FACT, OBAMA has continued to gain pledges of support from super-delegates, which is really the only thing that matters any more.

The plan is for Obama to say that after Tuesday, he will have a majority of the regular delegates who go to the Democratic National Convention pledged to support a specific candidate. Unless Obama were to lose both Oregon and Kentucky by about 90 percent to 10 percent margins, he will achieve that level of support this week.

But pledged delegates are not the complete story.

The simple fact is that neither of the Democrats will have enough support to automatically take the presidential nomination – not even after June 1 when Puerto Rico has its primary or June 3 when the primary season comes to an end in Montana and South Dakota (where Clinton and Obama likely will win another split of states).

THIS IS GOING to be the Year of the Super-delegate, where the party bigwigs’ worst nightmare will come true – they will have to put themselves on the record and actually pick a presidential nominee (thereby irritating half of the political party).

So it is going to be “a lie” when Obama says he has won the primary. It is going to sound as ridiculous as when Hillary has claimed in recent weeks she has a majority of the national popular vote.

That’s only true if one counts the disputed Michigan and Florida primary elections where Obama didn’t even run in one state (voters couldn’t pick him) and he did not campaign in the other (in accordance with the national party leadership’s desires).

Hillary Clinton has had to take some ridicule from people who say she is so desperate to make herself not look like a loser that she’s twisting the truth. Now, Obama is going to be guilty of the same offense.

THIS IS GOING to be the nominating process that won’t end until the Democratic convention in late August.

While I can understand why Obama wants to create the perception that he has “won” the race and can now divert his campaign’s attention to knocking around Republican opponent John McCain, it just has too much potential to go bad.

For one thing, it’s not necessary.

Obama already has created the perception amongst Democrats that he has won (or that the negatives that popped up about him came too late to overcome the early wave of Obama-mania that struck the country and caused a 12-state primary or caucus victory string).

HE CAN ALREADY focus on McCain in a credible manner. Some people think he already has done so, with the way he went after both McCain and President Bush the younger last week to reinforce the perception that the two are linked politically when it comes to Bush’s unpopular policies concerning the no-end-in-sight Iraq War.

Obama ought to keep hammering away with facts, not engaging in silly spin tactics that merely reinforce the disgust level felt by people who wanted Hillary for president and may turn out to be sore losers who sit out the Nov. 4 elections.

More dangerous is whether some other tidbit that the social conservatives opposed to Obama could distort into a “scandal” could come up, thereby causing Democratic super-delegates to support Clinton.

Obama may be gaining verbal pledges from these super-delegates that they will back Barack come the convention. But there is nothing legally binding them to their word – they can change their mind.

ANYBODY WHO EXPECTS a politico’s word now to hold for a convention floor vote to be taken in August is naïve. Making some statement this week that could be turned around into a premature comment would make Obama look like one of the most ridiculous creatures in the history of U.S. electoral politics.

So what will happen?

Obama is likely this week to have a press conference/rally, where he will formally claim a moral victory of sorts from the American people. He’ll be able to do it because the Oregon primary is a mail-in event, and most people have already cast their votes. The Obama campaign’s work is already done – there’s no need for him to be in Portland, and he certainly doesn’t want to be in Louisville Tuesday night.

The speculation is whether the victory declaration would take place in Iowa (the scene of his first primary victory) or in his adopted hometown of Chicago. For those of us Chicago political geeks, being able to attend the “victory” announcement (or watch it on television at a location we recognize) will be our one moment of election glory, since the Illinois primary got lost in the shuffle of Tsunami Tuesday.

OBAMA WANTS TO create the perception that if the Democratic Party later turns around and gives the nomination to Clinton, it will be an act against the will of the American people and a greater injustice than that which denied the U.S. eight years (or at least four) of President Al Gore.

For those who want Hillary back on Pennsylvania Avenue, the moment will motivate them to want to make Barack eat his words.

And for those of us who cast ballots for Obama, we will literally be saying our prayers that this act of “tempting fate” does not come back to bite us in the behind, just like Toby Zeigler so many years ago said it always does.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Brits are more willing to buy into the spin that Barack Obama ( can legitimately declare victory this week.

Obama already is hitting back against John McCain – engaging in the aggressive campaigning required if he is to take full advantage of McCain’s uncertain support ( among the social conservatives who make up the base of the Republican Party these days.

Obama should learn a lesson from the fictional “West Wing” if he ever hopes to work ( in the White House’s real West Wing.