Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin won't sway voters to McCain

Now that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has got his bounce (an 8 percent lead on Friday, if one believes the Gallup Organization), the real question is how far will Republican opponent John McCain manage to cut into it with his choice of a vice presidential nominee.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the first woman nominated to be at the top-of-the-ticket pairing for the Republican Party. That is significant in the same way that Don Baylor being the first African-American manager of the Chicago Cubs was something – the cross-town White Sox had their first black manager nearly two decades earlier.

OF COURSE, FIRST female vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro (1984) was on a losing political party ticket. Palin could be the first winner – but that is going to depend on what people think of her partner.

Ultimately, the 2008 presidential contest will be a battle between Obama and McCain. In the same way that the selection of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., did not give the Obama campaign a big boost at the beginning of the week, it is unlikely that the presence of Palin will make much of a difference in coming days.

McCain’s best shot of closing that gap in the polls (the two were virtually tied at the start of the Democratic National Convention) is to have an equally invigorating performance when his party convenes in St. Paul, Minn.

Showing that he is not a doddering old man who will just continue the policies of the Bush years (because he’s too old to have any thoughts of his own) is the way he knocks the Obama campaign back down to size.

PERSONALLY, I WON’T be the least bit surprised if the two campaigns are virtually tied (McCain will probably have a slight lead within the margin of error) when the GOP convention is over a week from now.

In fact, it may do the Republican National Convention a world of good if Hurricane Gustav impacts the United States. Party officials have talked of postponing their nominating convention out of respect to potential hurricane victims.

Sparing us the sight of people wearing red/white/blue clothing would make them appear to be the party of compassion – even if the gesture itself doesn’t really accomplish much. Will anybody whose property suffered hurricane damage recoup their losses because we didn’t get to see a GOP delegate from Montana wearing a silly hat with an elephant snout protruding from it?

I’m not convinced that the presence of Palin is going to mean much (although I must admit to enjoying the trivial tidbits in the early round of stories that told us Palin was nicknamed “barricuda,” has eaten burgers made from ground moose meat and is married to an Aleutian Indian, a.k.a., an Eskimo).

IN LARGE PART, I think the presence of a woman on the Republican ticket is a wasted gesture. Many of the people who comprise the GOP’s hard core supporters these days are those who think the problem with modern day society is that we are too concerned with including people from a variety of groups – rather than just trying to get, “the best qualified person.”

Will the presence of a woman (even one whose views on social issues such as abortion are as conservative as anyone else already in the Republican party) on the ballot turn off those Republicans who don’t want to have to consider gender when casting their vote?

Many of these people are the ones who entered the election season wondering if McCain is a closet liberal because his personal views on issues such as immigration are more sympathetic to those affected than their own views are.

It almost seems to me that McCain is counting on the fact that those conservatives will be more repulsed at the thought of voting for a biracial man than they would be in voting for a pseudo-cowboy from Arizona who’s using a pseudo Aleutian to try to attract votes.

HE ALSO SEEMS to think that the Democratic supporters of former candidate Hillary R. Clinton were just voting for her because of a lack of a certain private part. In fact, it would seem that McCain thinks he will get more Clinton backers to vote for him than he will lose conservatives to the third-party candidacy of Bob Barr.

But I can’t help but think that abortion stance, and her willingness to accept much of that “frontier” attitude (thinking of themselves as the original settlers of a land populated by the Aleutians for centuries) found among white people who settle into Alaska, will turn off the most liberal women who might have a problem “getting over” Hillary’s loss.

If anything, this cynical gesture could very well be what causes a larger share of women to decide that both the Obama and McCain campaigns are full of it, with neither one worthy of a vote.

It also will hurt any chance that the McCain campaign could seriously try to argue Obama (with 12 years as an elected official and a decade of work as a community organizer) has a weak public policy resume. If anything, McCain has now opened himself up to claims he is nothing more than George Bush the elder, picking a running mate as equally inexperienced as the one-time senator from Indiana, J. Danforth Quayle.


“Palin = Quayle,” read the New York Daily News website on Friday, while some Internet sites with comments sections already are seeing people refer to Palin as, “Daniella Quayle.”

At the very least, the Biden/Palin debate will be interesting to watch (possibly moreso than any of the Obama/McCain debates that will take place this autumn). Outside of the decision to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (she supports it, while McCain does not), does anyone see an issue that will come up where Biden will not whomp on her?

In fact, the first-term governor’s only chance of winning a debate will be if Biden goes so overboard (never overlook the chance that a politico will overreact) that people get the perception that she’s being bullied.

IN ONE REGARD, McCain succeeded with his pick for a running mate. On the day after Obama gave his much-debated acceptance speech (which caused Oprah’s eyelashes to wash away due to her tears of joy), the senator from Arizona managed to shift the attention of political observers back to himself.

But did he do so in a way that will translate into votes, or just some snickers? And I don’t mean the candy bar.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Did the choice of Sarah Palin to be John McCain’s running mate on the 2008 presidential ballot ( really come as that much of a shock to Democratic nominee Barack Obama?

This commentary is an exaggeration. But McCain may have turned off more potential voters ( than he pleased with his choice of a running mate. For what it is worth, the Palin/Joe Biden debate will take place ( Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Chicago Tribune has been supportive of Obama’s political aspirations. But in this editorial critiquing Obama’s acceptance speech, the one-time Voice of Midwestern Republicanism (,0,4038059.story) gives us a clue how it will overcome its hometown ties and justify endorsing the McCain campaign.

Trivial pursuit, political style

The 2008 presidential election will either be the campaign that gives this country its first president from Hawaii, or its first vice president from Alaska. Either way, the parts of the United States that are not part of the mainland will experience a boost.

Now all we need is to get a serious political candidate from Puerto Rico or Guam to run for office. Or perhaps Bill Richardson (born in California, his mother is Mexican and he was raised as a child south of the Rio Bravo del Norte/Rio Grande) has learned from his mistakes of 2008 and could run a more serious campaign for president in the future?

FOR WHAT IT is worth, the Alaska governor’s office gives us its view of the future of electoral politics. Sarah Palin’s official government website (at includes an official biography for gubernatorial spouse Todd Palin – her high school sweetheart.

The link to his portion of the site refers to him as the, “First Gentleman.”

And on a final (if somewhat disgusting) note, how much would one of Oprah’s eyelashes be worth on eBay? You know, one of the tear-soaked ones she wore at Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s acceptance speech?


EDITOR'S NOTE: Wasilla, Alaska, has managed to more than double its population during the past two decades ( since local woman Sarah Palin got involved in politics, both as its two-term mayor and for the past 20 months as governor. Of course, the number of people who call Wasilla home still remains below 10,000.

Friday, August 29, 2008

EXTRA: I'm buried in political spam

I should have anticipated all the junk e-mails I’d be getting from the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. I gave them the Chicago Argus/South Chicagoan e-mail address to see for myself how they would “inform” the American people as to a vice presidential selection.

They told me (several hours after I had already learned from the Associated Press, although I understand CNN claims IT broke the story about Joe Biden’s pairing with Obama). Obama/Biden also has sent me countless e-mails on a daily basis.

I can buy a refrigerator magnet with the Obama/Biden campaign logo on it. I can attend countless parties in my area so I can watch St. Barack on television. On some occasions, the e-mails are nothing more than blanket appeals for more campaign donations (as little as $25 will be accepted).

Sometimes, I get a heartfelt message from “Joe,” telling me to keep the faith about his and Obama’s chances of a Nov. 4 victory.

Just moments ago (6:54 p.m., CDT, to be exact), they dug up “Michelle.”

The potential first lady “sent” me (and who knows how many thousands of others) the following message.

Friend --

The first time I ever heard Barack speak was at a community meeting on the South Side of Chicago.

He won me over with the same message that inspired millions last night.

He told people who'd been knocked down that, despite everything, we need to set our sights on a better place around the bend -- and that it's up to each one of us to fight for it.

That's where you come in.

More than two million supporters already own a piece of this extraordinary campaign. Will you join them by making your first donation right now?

Make a donation of $5 or more today:

Now that the convention is over, time will fly between now and Election Day.

And the next two days are especially important.

The August fundraising deadline is this Sunday at midnight, and we can prove that a campaign funded by grassroots supporters can compete with John McCain and the Republicans.

The past four days in Denver -- and the amazing event last night -- showed the country that Americans are ready for change.

Now it's up to each of us to make it happen.

Thanks for everything you're doing,


With “friends” like these, it’s going to be a long campaign season.


First Chicagoan runs for president

Perhaps it is appropriate that the first Chicago resident to get a nomination to run for U.S. president is really a transplanted Hawaiian.

For if Barack Obama, who on Thursday formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president in the 2008 elections, were really a kid of the South Side streets, there’s a good chance that his political ambitions would have ended at wanting to be a part of the scene at City Hall.

IT IS NOT an accident that political people in this city don’t get all bent out of shape about running for office in other places. Our officials tend to think that our local government is broad enough a canvas for one to “paint” their political visions on.

Part of what makes Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, unique in relation to Chicago politics is that he took an early interest in the operations of state government and has been content to have a career there (representing the city’s interests), rather than looking for a way to come “back home” politically.

In certain cases, Chicago political people can rise to positions where they appear to be influencing the so-called big shots in Washington.

How many people seriously believe John Kennedy only became president in the 1960 elections because of the aid of Mayor Richard J. Daley? And how many local political observers of the past only thought former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., significant because he kept his position as a Democratic committeeman, in addition to his role as House ways and means chairman?

THAT IS WHY it is hard for me to keep a straight face whenever I hear Republican campaign rhetoric that claims Obama is just another corrupt Chicago politico.

To listen to the GOPers, Obama is the 21st Century equivalent of “The Machine,” the dreaded Democratic political organization that already has its tentacles wrapped around the Statehouse in Springfield, Ill., and now is trying to grasp at the White House.

If Obama were truly a part of “The Machine,” there’s a good chance he never would have gotten elected to the General Assembly. It definitely wouldn’t have happened in 1996.

That was the year he managed to take advantage of flawed political petitions filed in a hurry by longtime state Sen. Alice Palmer, D-Chicago (who tried unsuccessfully to run for Congress). When Obama got the Chicago political loyalist kicked off the ballot, he had a clear path to a legislative seat.

A GOOD MACHINE politico would have stepped aside for Palmer, and waited his turn. In Obama’s case, it is likely that his Ivy League background would have made local politicos suspicious, and would have continually caused them to push Obama aside until he finally gave up and decided to go into some business venture and make money.

Instead, Obama forced his way into the Machine, but then made his accommodations with it. If he hadn’t, his political career would have ended after one term in Springfield, as Democrats would have pounced on him like vultures and defeated him for re-election.

Obama showed a willingness to work with the Senate’s Democratic leader, Emil Jones, who then touted him, guiding him through the rough spots that could have provided an idealistic official with a political record that would have given Republicans ammunition to use against him (as though his liberal ideals didn’t do enough of that, in their eyes).

But I’d argue that is a sign he can work with people who are unlike himself. Shouldn’t such an ability be a positive in a political person.

IF OBAMA WERE a true Chicago politico, he’d have only left the Illinois Senate if some post that had him working at City Hall opened up. If he had remained in Springfield, he might be in line to be the new leader of Democrats in the Illinois Senate (as Jones is retiring after this year, following 36 years as a Chicago “Machine” loyalist).

Instead, he took the route of “up and out” and went to Washington, where he could let his true idealistic nature loose a bit. Although even there, he has been willing to make accommodations to work with the political establishment. (Would a true “liberal” have been willing to vote for a wall along the U.S./Mexico border under any circumstances?)

It is the fact that Chicago is merely a part of the Obama character that allowed him to think of himself as a potential president. In reality, he is just as much the first Hawaiian presidential nominee as the first Chicagoan to have that spot.

It’s true. The Illinoisans who ran for president largely were people who did not have direct ties to Chicago.

FORMER ILLINOIS GOV. (and later U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) Adlai Stevenson was the closest – he made his accommodations to “the Machine” when it really was all-powerful, and he was used by the political people such as Jake Arvey as a way of trying to put a sympathetic face on Chicago politics. But Stevenson was a Libertyville resident with ties to Bloomington.

There also was the 1980 presidential election, where Ronald Reagan defeated Rep. John Anderson, R-Ill., the Rockford-area man who ran an independent presidential bid that captured the imaginations of a few voters.

If anything, Illinois has been more a place that produces presidents, who then develop their characters elsewhere. The aforementioned Reagan was a Dixon native who abandoned Illinois after finishing up his education at Eureka College.

He’s an Illinoisan who converted himself into a Californian, just the opposite of Honolulu native Obama who has spent his adult life in Chicago.

PEOPLE ALSO LIKE to mention Ulysses S. Grant as an Illinois president, even though he was really an Ohio native who lived for a bit in Galena (but is now buried in a tomb in Manhattan).

That leaves us with Lincoln, the Kentucky-born and Hoosier-raised man who lived his adult life in Illinois until leaving for Washington to be president.

Is that ultimately the fate of Obama, to leave us Chicagoans and move to a “bigger world” like Lincoln did? Of course, that presumes he will win on Nov. 4 – which is not a sure bet; Republican opponent John McCain will offer a feisty fight.

In fact, I must admit the sight of a Chicago political person (quite possibly the only public official I ever covered personally who has the ambition and skills necessary to stage a serious presidential campaign) leaves me uncertain what to think.

BECAUSE I CAN’T help but think that if Obama really has become a Chicagoan at heart (his wife is native South Side, as are his daughters), then he will be back.

Having a former president/presidential hopeful in our political midst is something new to us. To the Chicago political mindset, the closest we can come to such a niche is that filled by Jane Byrne – even though being a former Chicago mayor falls so short on the significance scale to what Obama is attempting to do.

Basically, this is going to be an unusual election cycle for Chicagoans. Our political ways are going to be put on the national scene. The whole world will literally be watching the way we do things here in the Second City.

It will be curious to see how we match up to their expectations. And if we fall short, it will be interesting to see how quickly we let the world know we’re not all that concerned about what they think of the Chicago Way.


EDITOR’S NOTES: One-time House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski is usually the political ideal ( for Chicago types who decide to get involved in Washington politics, according to one Illinois political academic.

It has been nearly 11 2/3 years since I first encountered Barack Obama. So how did I first react to meeting ( a future presidential nominee?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

“Bar Cars” become relic of the past

The Chicago Tribune came up with the almost-dignified euphemism of “rail saloon,” while Metra (the commuter railroad that connects Chicago to the surrounding suburbs) officially refers to them as “refreshment cars.”

Yet to anyone who has actually used a Metra train, they were the “bar cars.”

SPECIFICALLY, THEY WERE the lone car located somewhere in the middle of a 10- to 12-car train that could not be entered from the outside because its’ entrance was blocked with a freezer that stocked beverages (both alcoholic and pop – I refuse to call it “soda”).

That car’s presence would allow people to purchase a drink to enjoy while enduring a commuter train ride home to a location on the outer edge of Chicago or one of its many suburbs.

Now these bar cars were not universal. I never saw them on the Metra Electric line trains that I rode for many years, although they did exist on the Rock Island line commuter trains connecting downtown to Joliet and on some other Metra lines I occasionally rode during my lifetime.

But after Friday, they will not exist anywhere.

THE TRIBUNE REPORTED that the cars were bringing in so little revenue that Metra officials have decided they can better use the space taken up by bar car patrons to seat passengers – many of whom are increasing their commuter train usage because the cost of gasoline remains ridiculously high (even if it is possible to find gas at just under $4 per gallon, if one looks intensely enough).

Now many people are going to label me a party pooper, but I must admit to not being upset that the bar cars are becoming an obsolete concept, just like the notion that Metra trains used to reserve one car (the one up front closest to the locomotive) for smokers of various tobacco products.

The bar cars never took on the raunchy stink that the smoking cars did, but the bar cars had their own unique aura.

They also contained one of the secrets to riding a Metra train during the rush hours. When other cars were crammed with people, there was always a good chance of getting a seat in the bar car – if one could push their way through the other cars to get to the bar car.

ONCE GETTING TO the bar car proper, one would often find that half the seats were empty – even though there were a significant number of people in the car.

That’s because the typical bar car patron wasn’t the least bit interested in sitting down. They wanted to stand around and drink, while babbling incoherently. They were also the kind of people who liked to stand around and clog up the aisles and make it impossible for people to get through – all so they could enjoy their brand of cheap, domestic beer.

And as the Tribune noted in a story it published this week about the demise of the bar cars, it often was the same people. If you could stand to be in their presence for up to an hour and a half (the length of a Metra train ride to the most distant of suburbs), then you could get a seat.

It the smell of cheap beer nauseated you, then you were stuck dealing with the overcrowded cars on the rest of a Metra commuter train.

AND THERE WAS one other drawback. That smell would linger for some time. If one was stuck working a few extra hours in downtown Chicago and had to take a late-evening train, one would often have to cope with the aroma (and occasionally, the rubbish) from the bar car crowd. It usually took an overnight airing out to fully clean out these rail cars.

Now for those people who are about to complain that it is an inconvenience to ride a train without some place to purchase overpriced refreshments, I have to say “get real.”

Every downtown Chicago train station that handles Metra commuter trains I have ever seen has several stands selling refreshments, including the same beer or pop that one would buy on board the train. It will still be possible to purchase something before getting on board.

The only thing that will change is the disappearance of the people who considered their train ride home a high point of their day by being able to buy a beer and clog up the aisles of the bar car by refusing to sit down.

NOW, THEY’LL HAVE to buy it in advance, and take a seat. Let’s just hope these people don’t get sloppy, and start spilling their beverages on the rest of us.

And if it means that in some cases, a person has to wait a bit until they get to their home neighborhood or suburb before having an after-work drink, that might be an improvement (although it appears that was not a concern of Metra when they decided to phase out bar cars).

It’s not like many of these rides are so long that one needs nourishment in order to survive. A commuter train ride home is not the equivalent of an Amtrak train ride to St. Louis, Memphis or Detroit, or even the St. Louis-bound train that makes downstate Illinois stops in Bloomington and Springfield (two train stops I am well acquainted with in my life).

Taking the train from downtown Chicago to the Statehouse in Springfield is made a tad more bearable by being able to get something to drink. Needing that same drink on board a commuter train to Joliet – that’s just a lack of self-discipline.

SO EXCUSE ME for thinking that the people who cluttered up the Chicago Tribune’s website comments section with accounts of how this represents the demise of Chicago’s character are being too melodramatic.

The loss of a bar car on board a Metra train isn’t the same as Marshall Fields’ department stores evolving into that symbol of New York shopping known as Macy’s. I’d hate to think Metra would start getting the same overly emotional people with nothing better to do with their lives all worked up because they can no longer buy a can of “Old Style” beer on board the train, but have to bring it on board with them for their ride home from work.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I wonder how many of the hundreds of people who added their thoughts about the demise of “bar cars” ( on board Metra commuter trains did so with work-related computers or on time that was supposed to be spent working.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Best buddies!?! Who's kidding whom?

Am I the only one who, upon seeing Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, embrace Wednesday in Denver, remembered that moment from “The Godfather, Part II” set in Havana in the early seconds of New Year’s Day 1959?

You remember the scene; Michael Corleone embracing brother Fredo while whispering into his ear, “I know it was you, You broke my heart,” setting the stage for Michael eventually to have Fredo killed.

How long will it be until the two Statehouse officials break whatever truce they have that caused them to tolerate being in each others’ presence for even a couple of minutes?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Call it respect for copyright, but if one wants to see photographs of the two Illinois politicos in their embrace (, they will have to check it out here.

How ugly can “America” be?

Three men are in federal custody in Denver, as officials say they suspect the trio was hatching a plot to try to shoot presidential hopeful Barack Obama while he gave his acceptance speech Thursday at the Democratic National Convention.

Now it is true that these three particular individuals (who currently only face unlawful use of weapons-type charges) were probably not a serious threat.

LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT officials say that while they had rifles and scopes for long-distance shooting, there was so much about their “plot” that was unplanned that it was highly unlikely they would have been able to get their act together in time to do anything harmful to Obama.

But the fact that white supremacists (the three in custody are being judged that largely because of the specific tattoos, including swastikas, they have on their bodies) would even concoct such a scheme is telling.

The ugly underside of “The American Way of Life” is exposed. And while I will admit that not everybody who has a problem with Obama because of his biracial background is prepared to try to kill him, perhaps it is time we quit trying to ignore the fact that race is an issue in this presidential campaign in a way it never has been in the past.

Reading through the often incoherent (and almost always anonymous) ramblings of the white supremacist movement creates a picture of pathetic men desperately eager to take up their firearms and use them on black people. These people want a racial war, and are looking for an excuse to claim they were attacked.

INSOFAR AS OBAMA is concerned, there are the generic rants that he needs to be killed, or pleas that someone should do it. Of course, these anonymous people make an effort to stop themselves before saying they would commit such an act.

Even those white supremacists who are able to accept the fact that Obama could win the general election see violence breaking out. The presence of a President Obama would infuriate them to the point of taking action.

Since so much of this is anonymous, it is easy to give credit to one of the few ramblings where the author had the nerve to put his name on his thoughts. That would be David Duke, the one-time Klansman-turned-Louisiana politico-turned activist on behalf of his race.

“Obama will be a clear signal for millions of our people,” Duke wrote earlier this summer on his personal website. “Obama is a visual aid for white Americans who just don’t get it yet that we have lost control of our country, and unless we get it back we are heading for complete annihilation as a people.”

NOW I’M NOT claiming that people who support Republican opponent John McCain are racist or white supremacist or any kind of “ist.” In fact, I would guess that the real racists have just as many problems with McCain as they do any other candidate.

Duke, in the same essay, says Obama is “not appreciably different” in his views than either Hillary R. Clinton or McCain, and, “no worse for us than any of the white sell-outs” who have been elected to political office in the past.

That also is why it did not surprise me to learn that the estranged wife of one of the Denver Trio claimed her husband was ‘apolitical” and probably didn’t even know the Democrats were gathering in Denver for their nominating convention.

He probably did have no interest in conventional electoral politics that comprise the real “American Way” of life. These would-be racists who are willing to use the imagery of the Nazi era in Germany are fascists as opposed to the concept of Democracy as anyone on this planet.

THESE ARE THE people whose only interest in politics and government is staging (in their wildest fantasies) some sort of armed coup de tat that allows them to impose themselves as Leader of the Universe, with their first order being the extermination of people unlike themselves.

It sounds like the plot of a half-wit video game. It would be laughable, if it weren’t so real.

There is an ugly streak that exists in this country. Now if it were just a matter of some pathetic twits wanting to live their lives in a cave isolated from the rest of us, it would be no problem. Permitting that IS the “American Way.”

It is when those people become a risk to the public safety that they must be dealt with as criminals. So I’m not particularly interested in hearing people claim that the three men in federal custody who were caught with riflescopes in Denver are being persecuted for their beliefs.

ALTHOUGH AFTER READING many racist rants off the Internet, I suspect the Denver Trio will not be regarded as martyrs for “the cause” as much as they will be subjected to derision from the supremacists for failing so badly to hatch a plot against Obama.

There was one part of Duke’s commentary that I think needs serious response.

He wrote that he believes Obama’s presence as a legitimate presidential candidate will cause white people to start thinking more blatantly about racial issues when they vote. “The minorities have long had this consciousness,” Duke wrote. “They have been voting in blocs for decades. Now, it is our turn.”

I don’t buy it, largely because of the example I have seen in Chicago where our local politics turned ugly and focused heavily on race (remember Council Wars?)

YET NO AFRICAN-American public official since Harold Washington has had to endure the blatantly hostile attitudes of white Chicago, largely because we got to see firsthand that a “black mayor” was not a radical concept that would drive the city into bankruptcy. It also helps that a lot of white people think back to the things they said and did back then, and now wonder how they could have been so ridiculous.

It was an embarrassing era that many in the Second City would not want to repeat.

I have wondered to myself if a President Obama is a sign that the nation is going to go through the same experience in the upcoming decade. Will Obama get such a hostile reaction from Congressional opponents that people will look back on the Bill Clinton years by comparison as an era of bipartisan cooperation?

Will we later look back and realize how ridiculous it all is?

IF SO, THEN maybe there is a benefit, although I will feel sorry for Obama himself, since it would mean subjecting himself to an ordeal unlike anything ever experienced before.

I must confess, however, to seeing one semi-humorous element concerning the Denver Trio – their timing.

They were arrested on Monday, the same day that potential first lady Michelle Obama spoke about her husband to the Democratic National Convention in what was perceived by some pundits as an attempt to revise the strident public image they were eager to give her.

Having to be reminded of the racial attitudes of the past on the same day she spoke was yet more anecdotal evidence that Michelle was not being absurd when she said earlier this year during a campaign event in Wisconsin that the positive response her husband’s campaign received made her “proud” for the first time in her adult life to be an American.


EDITOR’S NOTES: These two commentaries provide a sampler of some of the types of hostile rhetoric ( that exists on the Internet from white supremacists concerning Barack Obama. Following the links and digging deeper will take you into a ( world that will (at the very least) give you an intense headache.

Three men are in federal custody, even though the wife of one insists her (,fbi082608.article) estranged husband was “apolitical.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Trib?

The Chicago Tribune is trying to go the splashy graphics route, in hopes of making itself more enticing to people who don’t want to pick up the physical paper on a regular basis.

There’s only one problem with the look, as far as I’m concerned. It’s still a broadsheet, not a tabloid. Take a look at the Editor & Publisher story ( for a glimpse of what could become this city’s leading circulation newspaper.

SERIOUSLY, THE GRAPHICS that try to play up a single story or two (rather than the six or seven that now make up the front page of the Tribune on any given day) work well on a tabloid-sized newspaper. It’s almost like one can think of the newspaper as a daily news magazine. But on a broadsheet-sized page, it looks bad. It looks like the graphics are trying to overtake the content.

If the quality of writing is good, it creates an intriguing publication. Of course, if the writing is worth squat, then the publication merely becomes trivial.

That’s the problem with too many of the redesigns being done for newspapers today. Ultimately, a publication lives and dies with the quality of its writing. Graphic elements can support prose, but they can’t replace it.

Also, I couldn’t help but notice the potential new slogan “Home of the Midwest’s largest reporting team.” That’s the same rhetoric that Tribune executives are using to try to distract attention from all the staff cuts they have made in recent months.


Jones joins the Daleys in the political category of “Did he really say it?”

Usually, when a Chicago-area political person gets in trouble for saying something offensive, it is because they said something they secretly believe.

The classic example was the time in 1993 then-Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip, R-Wood Dale, said approving increases in benefits paid by social service programs was a waste because the recipients would just use the extra money to "buy more lottery tickets."

IT WAS BLUNT. It was a tacky thought to have. And Philip eventually offered up a pseudo-apology, saying he was sorry if anybody was offended (but not sorry for actually believing such a thought).

But retiring Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, has crossed over into a different category of tacky comments made by a politico. It is a category that contains the Daleys.

It is a category where people will forevermore debate, “Did he really say it?” For Jones claims people who are now offended with him actually misheard him, similar to how the Mayor Daleys (both “J” and “M”) claim they were misheard.

Jones entered the category of “Chicago politicos who said something stupid” during an event last weekend when some people claim he referred to black politicians who still support the presidential dreams of Hillary R. Clinton over those of Barack Obama as “Uncle Toms.”

ACCORDING TO THE Chicago Tribune, longtime political activist Delmarie Cobb claims Jones made the wisecrack about her, and she claims two Chicago aldermen were with her and heard Jones say it.

Jones says he never said it, and that is where he differs from the rank-and-file of stupid political comments.

He claims he was attacking people who were still supportive of Clinton’s presidential dreams and critical of Obama’s chances of winning a general election against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jones says he called them, “Doubting Thomases.”

Jones told the Tribune that Cobb (an African-American woman who has been active in politics since the days that Jesse Jackson ran for president in the 1980s, but this year was a leader of the Clinton campaign in Illinois during the primary season) must have only heard the word “Thom” and somehow filled in the rest of the slur (incorrectly, he claims) in her imagination.

IT’S TOO BAD that no audio tape exists of Jones’ moment that could help us decipher what was really said.

Because now we have to figure out whether we believe Cobb (and her two aldermanic witnesses) or Jones.

For those who are culturally (or literarily) clueless, “Uncle Tom” as an insult is a reference to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the 1850s novel whose namesake character became the basis for a slur used by black people against other black people who were perceived to be putting the interests of whites ahead of their own kind.

In one sense, this incident can be seen as yet another anecdote indicating than the Obama and Clinton supporters are not yet ready to kiss and make up and work together for the Nov. 4 general elections.

BUT IT IS a slur I have heard used by various political people from Chicago. And the reason I’m inclined to think Cobb didn’t completely imagine this incident is because whenever I have heard it used by those politicos, it was never in the full phrase of “Uncle Tom.”

It was usually spoken as just “Tom,” as one might say of another black person, “he’s Tomming it,” or “We have some Toms among us.”

So Jones might literally be speaking the truth that he never said the two words in combination with each other. But it could very well have been the thought he meant to convey.

The fact that he now says he was saying “Doubting Thomas” almost sounds too convenient, like a thought that popped into his head when he was first confronted with the allegation that he was slurring against Cobb.

IT SOUNDS A lot like the excuse that Richard M. Daley gave when he did/did not make his own gaffe in the days just before getting elected mayor in a special election of 1989.

At the time, Chicago had gone through two African-American mayors, and the fallout from the “Council Wars” era still tinged a lot of activity with regards to city government. We didn’t need Democrats and Republicans in the City Council when we had blacks and whites willing to fight it out politically.

At a campaign rally, Daley the younger allegedly said something along the lines of, “what we need is a white mayor who can deal with the business community.”

Except that Daley insists he never said the word “white.” People who were on hand for the event claim that the verbal flub that some want to interpret as the word “white” was really the future mayor engaging in classic “Daley speak,” stumbling over the word “what” so badly and with such awful syntax that the controversial comment could be heard by a person inclined to various conspiracy theories.

SUCH AN EXCUSE would be ridiculously laughable, except that those of us who have heard Daley speak know that he IS such an awful public speaker that he makes Jones appear to sound like a classic orator.

So now, Chicago historians can debate whether Jones meant “Uncle” when he said “Thomas” and whether Daley the younger ever really said “white.”

Yet both men fall far short of Daley the elder, who had his “Did he really say it,” moment during the Democratic National Convention of 1968.

All of the historic retrospectives that have been appearing in newspapers and on television in recent days have focused on the fact that Chicago police went overboard in their physical harassment of protesters (their conduct was classified as a “police riot,” according to the Walker Commission investigation conducted one year later).

YET TO SOME people, the ultimate convention moment came inside the International Amphitheatre when Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, D-Conn., used the main stage to say, “if George McGovern were president, we wouldn’t have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”

Such a blunt shot at Chicago’s police warranted an outburst of noise from the Illinois delegation to the convention, and Daley was seen to say something – although his exact words were drowned out those people around him – which included a youthful Richard M. Daley.

Later, Daley the elder would say he was calling Ribicoff a “faker,” which some Daley loyalists claim was his slur of choice for liberal activists whose sincerity he doubted. Yet there are those to this day claim Hizzoner was using a certain choice obscenity that many mothers have threatened to wash out their sons’ mouths with soap for using.

And the counter-cultural activists of the era fed off that uncertainty, often claiming they could lip read him into saying something along the lines of, “F—k you, you Jew S-n of a B---h.”

SO PERHAPS IT is only appropriate that Jones chose to join the quotables club in the days just before the 40th anniversary of Daley the elder’s infamous moment of, “Did he really say that?”

The only real question is how long until the trio of politicos becomes a foursome?


EDITOR’S NOTE: What did Emil Jones Jr. really say about Delmarie Cobb? And should any of this ( creep its way into the presidential campaigns, particularly during the Democratic convention?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Walter Payton for Vice President?

That was Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s choice, if he had to pick a sports-related person to appear on the ballot with him – although he also threw a bone to Michael Jordan.

For those of us who remember his moment of introduction last year for Monday Night Football, Obama’s recent interview about sports-related topics for ESPN is a tad more legitimate – particularly since he says he wishes baseball could get its own act together with regards to steroid use by ballplayers (without Congress or the federal government getting involved).

And for those who wondered, he stood up for the White Sox, saying he’d root for them in the World Series if they played against the Cubs.

The interview aired Monday night, and can be seen ( again here.


Chicago political influence will be on display throughout Dem show in Denver

(NOT IN) DENVER – The Democratic Party chose Denver to be the site of their presidential nominating convention this year in large part to try to show a growing influence in western states that many people think of as Republican strongholds.

Yet the lineup of speakers for the Democratic National Convention, particularly those who will speak Monday night, makes me feel like the show I’ll be missing is a political rally similar to many I have seen before – in Chicago.

ALL WE’D NEED is the “Picasso” statue in the background, and we might as well be able to have the convention speakers at the Daley Center plaza.

Now as it turns out, potential first lady Michelle Obama (a life-long South Sider) will be the primary speaker today, although Obama’s sister, Maya, and brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, will also get a bit of attention – letting us know why their brother/brother-in-law ought to get to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W., for at least four years.

Yet others who will put on a show will include Illinois SEIU President Tom Balanoff, Jerry Kellman who originally hired Obama to be a community organizer when he first came to Chicago in the mid-1980s, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., (yet not his father, longtime civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson).

Then, there is the gathering of Chicago politicos who do their bidding at the Statehouse in Springfield, but will be gathering in Denver on Monday. They include Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, state Comptroller Dan Hynes (who lost to Obama in the 2004 primary for U.S. Senate), Chicago city Clerk (and former state Senate colleague of Obama) Miguel del Valle, and Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis (who would not have a political career had Obama not taken an interest in his one-time student at the University of Chicago).

THE IDEA IS that the first night of the convention is supposed to consist of a list of speakers who knew Barack, “way back when…” Our Chicago politicos are supposed to let the nation know who Obama really is.

It is meant to combat all the ridiculous rhetoric that will come from Republican loyalists in coming months that Obama is nothing more than a political hack from Chicago.

Trust me when I write that if Obama really were nothing more than a “Chicago machine” type, then he never would have aspired to become president, or probably not even to serve in the U.S. Senate.

He would have been content to serve in the Illinois Senate for a few decades, and perhaps would be one of the people under consideration in coming months for the role of state Senate president – now that current leader Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago, is retiring.

REPUBLICAN POLITICAL HACKS are more truthful when they try to attack Obama as a creation of the overly intellectual University of Chicago faculty and as a product of the activist spirit that has long dominated Obama’s home neighborhood of Hyde Park.

Anybody who seriously knows their Chicago politics understands how far Hyde Park (with its pseudo-integrated population) stands outside the mentality that dominates Chicago City Hall.

The late political science academic Milton Rakove’s classic book about “the Machine” was entitled “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent” because that was the reaction he got from Machine types when he tried to volunteer to work on city political campaigns, and they learned he was a U of C student (Go Maroons!).

It is a complete contradiction of terms to claim Obama is a Chicago political hack AND some sort of radical. Anyone who tries to serve up that political talk is showing their ignorance.

BUT WE OUGHT to give them one bit of credit – at least they are openly trying to turn this campaign into a form of class warfare, a sleazy tactic on their part, but at least they’re not pretending to be respectable.

It would be nice if the slew of Chicago speakers (and they are all Chicago, nobody from the suburbs or rural areas that technically comprise about three-quarters of the population of Obama’s adopted home state of Illinois) on Monday can help the nation understand this concept.

Because I don’t know how many more times I will be able to tolerate hearing the Republican rhetoric about the “radical, liberal Chicago machine” politico.

Other people with local ties who will get speaking slots (and some public attention) during the rest of the week include Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., on Tuesday, and Mayor Richard M. Daley on Wednesday.

ALSO ON WEDNESDAY, Democrats will include a tribute to the U.S. military and to veterans, to be presented in part by Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth.

She stands to get some attention locally because she is quite possibly the only political person at the nominating convention who has any loyalties to Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Our state’s governor did not get any type of speaking slot at the Obama pep rally, er, uh, presidential nominating convention, even though he could easily have been slipped into the slew of governors who will speak Tuesday night.

Duckworth is the Iraq War veteran who lost a leg in combat, and later went on to run an unsuccessful bid for a congressional seat from the Chicago western suburbs. Her state agency post was her consolation prize.

BUT SHE COULD get a bigger boost if Obama prevails on Election Day – Duckworth is one of the people whom Blagojevich reportedly is considering to replace Barack in the U.S. Senate.

Who’s to say that the big story from Illinois at the Democratic convention won’t be the introduction to the nation of Duckworth as a national political figure (similar to how the ’04 convention’s big local story was the conception of the phenomenon now known as Obama-mania?)

Technically, for those of us looking for Chicago angles to this week’s political activity in Denver, there are two other speakers worth noting.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick grew up on the South Side and has become an Obama friend (even giving Barack permission to use some of his political rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail).

THEN, LET’S NOT forget about the “Lady from New York.” Sen. Hillary R. Clinton, D-N.Y., is a native of suburban Park Ridge who grew up in the Chicago area, until she went off to college out east, and fell in love with an Arkansas boy who some of you may have heard of.

Perhaps all the Chicago influence will give her a twinge of affection for her home town, inspiring her to get her band of loyalists to come on board the Obama bandwagon in hopes of getting a Democrat in the White House for the first time since the early days of January, 2001.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Democratic National Convention will try to offer a unified vision of party faithful ( to bolster the chances Hawaiian-turned-Chicagoan Barack Obama can become U.S. president.

Vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is not a stranger ( to Chicago political types, who will be a dominant presence all this week ( in Denver.

I must confess, it never occurred to me to try to hit up you wonderful people who take the time ( to read my commentaries and analysis to send me money so I could travel to Denver and St. Paul, Minn., to watch the political pep rallies up close. I won’t be at either convention.

How accurate are they?

Chicago is a multi-ethnic paradise, with a mishmash of languages spoken here. The situation is such that I have always thought it absurd that the Chicago Argus existed only in English.

The problem is that not only am I NOT a multi-lingual person, the writing of daily commentaries for two weblogs (along with the writing I do that actually pays money) does not leave me any time to think of translating these commentaries by myself.

So for what it is worth, I have added the AltaVista BabelFish function to this weblog and to its sister site, The South Chicagoan. The widget can be found near the bottom of the far-right column of this site. But I have heard the horror stories of translation programs that turn English into foreign-language nonsense.

I would appreciate hearing from anybody who is actually fluent in a foreign language who can tell me just how accurate these translations really are. I’d rather not have them on the site if they’re turning my commentary to garble (and I caught a couple of minor errors in the Spanish-language translation of one essay I checked).

Contact me at the e-mail address offered to the right, if you find glaring errors. I want to know.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama's a little late

Here is the formal announcement sent out by the Obama campaign, with regards to confirming that the Associated Press (for once) didn’t screw up a story. This message supposedly went out at 9:36 a.m. (Chicago time, the only time zone that matters), but it literally just showed up minutes ago in my e-mail.

Friend --

I have some important news that I want to make official.

I've chosen Joe Biden to be my running mate.

Joe and I will appear for the first time as running mates this afternoon in Springfield, Illinois -- the same place this campaign began more than 19 months ago.

I'm excited about hitting the campaign trail with Joe, but the two of us can't do this alone. We need your help to keep building this movement for change.

Please let Joe know that you're glad he's part of our team. Share your personal welcome note and we'll make sure he gets it:

Thanks for your support,


P.S. -- Make sure to turn on your TV at 2:00 p.m. Central Time to join us or watch online at

The Associated Press beat them by about 9 ½ hours – a thought that makes the old Unipresser in me want to wretch


EDITOR'S NOTE: For what it is worth, anybody in Asia (perhaps attending the Olympics in Beijing) got the Obama announcement (,0,505658.poll) at a prime hour in the day.

EXTRA!: To forgive is devine

I guess this means Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., is forgiven for his condescending talk last year about how “clean” and “articulate” a person Barack Obama is.

Either that, or the Associated Press has managed to make what will go down as a gaffe of historic proportions.

THE WIRE SERVICE sent out reports in the early minutes of Saturday indicating that it will be an Obama/Biden ticket that takes on John McCain and the Republicans come Nov. 4. That means it will be the two senators who will appear before the throng of people expected to gather at the Old State Capitol.

If correct, it also means the Obama desire to make the news media obsolete flopped. History will record that it was a conventional news report that first gave us the name of Biden, not a text message.

It also confirms that the Internet and all the latest technical gadgets may be new devices for the transmission of information, but they are useless if there isn’t someone knowledgeable capable of digging up such information.

And on a final note, how long until the Republican attack dogs remind us about Biden and plagiarism?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Is the Obama campaign vindictive (or cunning) enough that Joe Biden would lose out on the chance ( to be the running mate just because someone spoiled their desire to make a show of the announcement?

The newspaper from Illinois’ capital city plans to use this spot ( on their website to give running accounts of Barack Obama’s appearance with his new running mate.

The Biden people ( offer up information about his decades as a public official in Washington.

Obama turns Vice President choice into a political game for geeky tech people

You have to give Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama a bit of credit. He has turned the selection for a vice presidential running mate into something that the technologically savvy younger generation will think of as a major event.

By insisting on making his announcement via a simultaneous transmission informing everybody who cares of his choice, he has come up with a way of appealing to people who view their computers and other gadgets as an essential part of life.

BY GETTING PEOPLE to constantly think of the Obama campaign every time they check their e-mail or text messages, he has stimulated interest in his campaign from a group of people who otherwise might not have cared in the slightest who Barack wants to succeed him – in the event of his untimely demise while in office.

He has turned the announcement of a vice president into a historic event – instead of the routine announcement that every presidential hopeful makes in the days just prior to his respective political party’s nominating convention.

How ridiculous has this become?

I gave over my e-mail address (the same one included in the right-hand column of this weblog) to the Obama Campaign earlier this week. I was curious to see how detailed their message would be, and if they would really give it up to anybody who asked.

SINCE THEN, I have received e-mails from the Obama people every day. I must admit to feeling a moment of anticipation whenever I noticed a message from “Obama for America” (or one time, from “Jon Carson, Barack Obama”).

Is this it? Do we finally know whether Evan Bayh (the Indiana politico whose father is a legendary D.C. politico) gets to be the equivalent of 1992 Al Gore (the Tennessee politico whose father was a legendary D.C. politico) to Obama’s 1992 Bill Clinton (the public policy geek whose experience came outside of the District of Columbia). Ah, who's kidding whom; that was never anything more than a ridiculous Hoosier fantasy.

Of course, all I felt was a dash of disappointment as those e-mails of recent days turned out to be little more than promotional announcements for the Obama campaign operations.

No, I’m not interested in turning the Democratic Convention in Denver into the equivalent of the Super Bowl by hosting a “Convention Watch Party,” as was suggested in one of those pre-announcement e-mails. Nor am I going to give the Obama Campaign any personal information about myself so they could send me more detailed information about themselves via e-mail.

I’M STARTING TO get the sense that even after I receive the announcement e-mail, I’m going to continue to get messages from Campaign Obama, letting me know his every promotional stunt.

Does this mean the big e-mail announcement was little more than an excuse for the Obama people to build an e-mail list so they can bury us with politically oriented spam? And this is worse, because they actually got us to ask for it.

It is because of that factor that I do not feel all that sorry for the Obama people, who in recent days have been the subject of an attempt at a scam. Somebody (or perhaps more than one somebody) is sending out fraudulent e-mail and text messages that appear to the untrained eye to be THE announcement.

Of course, these fakes claim that people such as Hillary R. Clinton or John Kerry are Obama’s choice for V-P, as though someone wants to inspire a repeat of the Chicago Sun-Times gaffe from 1980, when the newspaper in its early editions had a story claiming GOP presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan would turn to former President Gerald Ford to be his running mate.

BUT THE FACT that someone went to the trouble to stage such gag messages (personally, I think they’re more half-wit than humorous) is just evidence that Obama’s tactic succeeded in gaining the public’s attention.

Who would think it funny to try to pass a fake message about Republican John McCain’s choice of running mate? For that matter, who (outside of Mitt Romney) really cares who McCain picks for his running mate?

Obama has managed to stage this whole affair in such a way that HIS choice for VP is BIG NEWS!, while McCain’s choice will be little more than an afterthought – someone whom only political geeks with a special interest in the Republican Party will pay any attention to.

It also will result that the eyes of the nation (and the parts of the world not obsessed with the conflict between Russia and Georgia) will be on Springfield, Ill., on Saturday, when Obama and his running mate make their first joint appearance together, kicking off several days worth of activity that will lead to Denver and the Democratic National Convention.

IT WILL INCREASE the amount of activity at the Old State Capitol building, with thousands of people to be crammed into the courtyard that separates the building that Abraham Lincoln knew as the Illinois Statehouse from his downtown Springfield law office. It will result in a logjam of people who are asked to gather at noon for an event that (maybe) will start around 2 p.m.

I wonder how many people actually used their Internet access to properly RSVP their intent to attend the Saturday rally, as was requested by the Obama campaign in one of the e-mail messages they sent me after I gave them the Chicago Argus e-mail address.

But I also couldn’t help but notice that the message telling me the procedure I would have to follow if I wanted to attend the Springfield rally also provided a convenient link to click on, if I could not attend the rally, but wanted to send a financial contribution to Obama for America.

When it comes to campaign stunts, the ones that help raise money are the ones that are of the highest political priority.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The nation likely will get its first look at the Obama/______ team ( on Saturday in Springfield, Ill.

Gee, what a shock (sarcasm intended). The GOP’s attempt to bind Antoin Rezko’s activities to Barack Obama ( results in factually inaccurate television campaign ads.

If Obama really made the decision about vice president, then the past few days of waiting for an e-mail ( have truly been an exercise in Barack toying with the emotions of his supporters.

Friday, August 22, 2008

From pols to publishers, they all offer differing tales of federal prison life

Some people like to make jokes about “Club Fed” and life in prison as somehow being cushy. I’d like to think that those people are just being ridiculous, and not really so clueless.

But then I read about the conditions that one-time Chicago Sun-Times boss Conrad Black is enduring while serving a 6 ½-year sentence at a federal prison in Florida, and I have to wonder.

THE TORONTO STAR published an account Thursday that noted – among other things – that Black has made arrangements with prison officials so that his cellmate is assigned to work as Black’s butler, cleaner and all-around gofer while in prison.

Who says you can’t find good hired help?

The Star took its information from the British newspapers, which has long been far more interested in “Lord Black of Crossharbour” than we in Chicago ever were. To them, he’s a member of the House of Lords who got “busted.” To us, he’s just the cheap bum who gutted the Sun-Times to the point where it may be impossible for “the Bright One” to recover financially.

Considering that this account in the Chicago Argus is a rewrite of a Toronto Star account that is a rewrite of a story that appeared in the Daily Mail, it is possible that some aspect of truth has been lost in translation.

BUT OTHER TIDBITS about Black’s prison life include that he started his term with a job as a dishwasher, but has since been reassigned to the prison library – where he now has access to newspapers and e-mail.

He even was pictured in the newspaper wearing black t-shirts and gray sweat pants. The British press made a point of saying that such attire was far less dignified than the stylish, tailored suits he used to wear.

But I can’t help but note that they are a step up from the castoff military fatigues that are the standard issue attire of most inmates in facilities run by the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Is Black getting a cushy prison stint because of his background? I don’t understand why he would, but it would appear that way.

AND THE ANSWER is “no,” I don’t have any evidence of payoffs by Black or his supporters. So don’t ask.

But what catches my attention is that his version of prison life seems so radically different from the politically prominent inmates from Chicago who are serving (or have served) time in federal prison facilities.

It is the same bureaucrats who are running the prisons, so it ought to be the same type of conditions for the inmates.

After all, Black’s old newspaper in Chicago on Thursday published an account giving several former government officials a chance to talk about what their life in prison was like.

FORMER GOV. GEORGE Ryan is now an inmate at the minimum-security work camp that is part of the maximum-security Terre Haute federal correctional center. His prison job these days is so depressing that his family doesn’t want to talk about it, although when he was an inmate at the minimum-security Oxford Correctional Center, his prison job was to work in the exercise room.

One of his duties was literally to wipe inmate sweat off the exercise equipment.

Former Alderman Ambrosio Medrano told the newspaper he literally used to clean toilets, while former Alderman Wallace Davis Jr. had to work in the prison kitchen for a time – which is ironic because he now owns a restaurant that peddles fried catfish.

Not that everybody had gross stories to tell.

THERE WAS ALWAYS the situation of former city Clerk Jim Laski, who says that after starting out working in the kitchen, he was transferred to a special unit where his job involved no actual work.

“It’s like the city jobs you hear about where people show up and do no actual work,” Laski told the Sun-Times. “They have those in prison too.”

Some public degredation is involved, as federal bureaucrats who like to think of themselves as “law and order” types don’t mind giving junk duty to inmates who were once prominent people.

Former Gov. Dan Walker has often told the story of how he suddenly got reassigned by a new warden to a job picking up trash, using a special spear emblazoned with the words “Governor’s Stick” to remind him of how far he had fallen.

PERHAPS THERE IS something similar in the fact that Ryan (according to former Illinois first lady Lura Lynn) once thought he would get a job working in a prison library, only to suddenly get the duties that are too shameful to be spoken of.

But then, there are the inmates who complain about their plight. It turns out Black is one of them.

Despite evidence that his time in prison is not as negative an experience as it is for many other individuals, “Lord Black” is displeased.

The Toronto Star quotes an official who says Black the inmate “remains very snobbish” and is astounded at the lack of education of most of his fellow inmates – many of whom are from non-Anglo racial or ethnic groups who never graduated from high school and are serving time for drug-related offenses.

BECAUSE THESE PARTICULAR inmates have not caused serious disciplinary problems while in prison, they have been moved to the same minimum-security facility as a one-time member of the British Parliament.

Another person who thinks she is a step above her fellow inmates is one-time Cicero Mayor Betty Loren Maltese – who has been assigned to a crew that serves food to other inmates with special dietary restrictions (mostly to accommodate religious beliefs).

As a result, Betty these days has to listen to other inmates complain about the low quality of “slop” they are expected to survive on.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Betty looks down on her fellow inmates (at least one of whom has complained about receiving smaller bananas than other inmates) while also complaining about the quality of food she is expected to eat.

THE NEWSPAPER NOTES she has complained to prison chaplains that the food is not cooked to her preferred specifications, and she also wants to know why she can’t be served items such as cheesecake on a regular basis.

Admittedly, there is a continent between the two (Maltese is doing her time in California, while Black is serving time at a prison near Orlando, Fla.), but it almost is a shame that Lord Black of Crossharbour can’t be paired up with Mayor Betty from Cicero.

With their combined reported gripes, they’d be the perfect prison couple.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago pols have varying accounts of life in prison following (,CST-NWS-watchdog21.article0) convictions on charges related to political corruption, but not many politicos wold compare prison jobs to Chicago city jobs the way Jim Laski does.

A butler, gofer and cleaner? That is what former Hollinger bigwig Conrad Black has arranged for himself ( in prison.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Presidential polls can say anything

Is it a 5 percent lead, 3 percent or only 2 percent?

For that matter, who’s really in the lead – Barack Obama or John McCain?

BASED ON WHAT you want to believe about the 2008 campaign season for president, there is a political poll that will reinforce it.

Different polls were released Wednesday, and each campaign can find something positive. The survey done by the Gallup Organization showed Democrat Obama with a 2 percent lead over Republican opponent McCain. Another poll commissioned by the New York Times and CBS showed Obama with a 3 percent lead.

Yet the McCain campaign doesn’t have to feel sad. They can merely refer to the poll conducted by Zogby International for the Reuters wire service. It shows McCain with a 5 percent lead over Obama.

Now because the people with Gallup issue updated results every day, their figure is not getting as much attention. Zogby only periodically makes figures available, so their poll seems like it should be a “big event” worthy of bigger play.

YET I HAVE to admit I’m skeptical of the notion that McCain has suddenly developed such a big lead over Obama, even though the Zogby analysts tell us they believe it is the situation between Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia that is causing McCain’s decades in Congress and time in the military to take on a greater importance to some undecided voters.

If anything, it shows how volatile the electorate is when it comes to this campaign season. This is a close race that has seen daily tracking polls sway all over the place. Does anybody remember the 9-percentage point lead Obama had over McCain the day after his speech in Berlin?

That “huge” lead lasted but one day, and was gone entirely one week later when the McCain campaign generated some attention with their television spot hinting that Obama was a political twinkie with little more substance than Paris Hilton or Brittney Spears.

But even that tie only lasted for a day. So excuse me for thinking that the factors that influenced people to tell Zogby pollsters they would prefer McCain over Obama will be gone within another day or two.

THE IDEA THAT McCain would defeat Obama 44 percent to 39 percent (with Libertarian Bob Barr getting 3 percent, consumer advocate Ralph Nader 2 percent and 12 percent more still undecided) may be true – but only if Election Day were on Aug. 20, instead of two and a half months down the road. Who’s to say what figures will be real on Friday, or next week, or next month.

In fact, what I have noticed about the polls comes primarily from the daily figures offered up every afternoon by the Gallup people. Their studies have consistently shown Obama with a 2- or 3-percentage point lead over McCain (on Wednesday, they had Obama beating McCain 45 percent to 43 percent, while the New York Times/CBS poll showed him winning 45 percent to 42 percent).

Only when some “news of the day” quirk comes along do those figures change for a day, before reverting back to the concept of Obama with a narrow lead over McCain.

So what event stands to alter the polls? There are the vice president announcements, which will give each of the candidates a boost for a day – unless one of the running mates acts incredibly stupid.

WITH THE WAY the Obama campaign is milking the anticipation of his choice for a vice president, Barack is going to get a huge jolt of attention. About the only thing that could knock his selection off the news cycle would be the assassination of President George W. Bush – and even then only if it could be shown that Russia President Vladimir Putin were somehow responsible.

Both campaigns also are likely to get a jolt from the nominating conventions. The sight on televisions across the nation of both major party presidential candidates participating in over-glorified pep rallies will make the U.S. electorate inclined to think favorably about both Obama and McCain.

In fact, the Gallup people released an analysis of their past work, showing that presidential candidates usually show a brief 5 percentage point jump in their level of support immediately after the convention. Part of what made 2004 unusual is that it was one of the few campaign years when the candidates (particularly Democrat John Kerry) did NOT get a jump-start.

But this is a different year, and both of these candidates have a sense of how to milk their time in the spotlight so as to increase their levels of support.

IT IS VERY likely that in about a week and a half, there will be a poll (or polls) that show Obama with a huge lead over McCain. About one week after that, those same polls will show that McCain has closed the gap.

Then, we have to watch and see the mood of the country as it works its way through the autumn to Nov. 4. The higher the disgust level people feel toward President Bush, the more likely it is that Obama will be taken seriously.

That is why the most interesting – I think – statistic I read Wednesday was the recent Gallup poll showing the president’s “approval rating” on the rise. It’s only at 33 percent. But that is the highest level of support he has had since February, and is a 5 percent jump compared to last month.

Less disgust with the current political situation is a bonus for McCain. Of course, the disgust level for the president is something that is beyond the control of either campaign. Who knows where it will be at come Nov. 4?

THERE’S ONE OTHER reason I am inclined to disregard the notion of a 5-percent lead for the McCain campaign. Ask Al Gore from 2000 how much the popular vote really matters.

We pick presidents for this country based on the Electoral College. And the same people with Zogby who came up with a 5 percent lead for McCain in the popular vote also have another study on their website – one that breaks down the 50 states based on who their electors would support.

That study (which appears just under the press release touting their newest poll for Reuters) tells us that as of now, McCain wins enough states to gain 146 electors, while another 119 electors come from states that are too close to call.

Yet Obama wins the support in enough states to have 273 electors – when it only takes 270 to win the election. By their own study, Obama Wins!, even if as of right now, slightly more people overall might be willing to take the McCain campaign seriously.

AS THE ZOGBY people note, there could be changes in states that currently are inclined to support Obama, thereby giving McCain more support. Nobody has clinched this election. Which is why the old political cliché, “the only poll that matters is Election Day” is all the more true this year.

In fact, the only thing all of these numbers I have used in writing this commentary really mean is that nobody really knows who is going to win on Nov. 4. Anybody who tells you differently is either lying, or they’re too stupid to take seriously.


EDITOR’S NOTES: On the same day that one pollster had John McCain taking a significant lead ( over Barack Obama, their polling competitors ( showed Obama maintaining the same kind of lead he has held for weeks.

Both of the major party presidential candidates will show a boost in the polls in the days ( right after their nominating convention appearances. The key is to taking that jolt and maintaining it for the next two months.

Three percent of the potential electorate wants this man ( to be president, according to the polls.

Did Obama's lead decline ( slightly?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Surrender, or accepting reality?

I don’t know if I support them, but I can understand where a few dozen college presidents are coming from when they say the age at which one can legally drink alcoholic beverages ought to be reduced.

I remember my time in college two decades ago as a period where the attitude was constantly pushed that part of the “college experience” included getting overserved with cheap beer coming straight from the keg.

WHILE I DON’T hang around college campuses much anymore (being around 18-year-olds these days is creepy, it almost feels like stalking), I doubt much has changed in the mentality of the student bodies that are gathering on campuses across the state and nation this month for yet another year of academia at work.

The parties that make up a part of the college experience are going to include alcohol for those students old enough to consume it, and those students really aren’t going to care much if some kid who’s only a year or two underage doesn’t have enough sense to know when to stop drinking.

About 100 college presidents are part of an effort to urge state Legislatures to reduce the drinking age to 18, saying the mentality of campus life is such that they just can’t stop these kids from drinking.

They would prefer it if student activity were no longer illegal. That would make a large part of their problem go away, and allow them to treat over-consumption of alcohol as more of a public health issue.

NOW KEEP IN mind that I went to a slightly offbeat college campus with regards to the alcohol issue. My alma mater actually banned possession of alcohol on campus, even if you were legally old enough to drink.

Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington felt that it was easier to enforce the laws setting the legal drinking age at 21 by not letting anybody have alcohol – after all, it was an illegal substance for most of the student body. But it’s not like IWU was Wheaton College, where students sign pledges to abstain from alcohol (among other substances and activities) entirely in their lives.

Yet a strict “alcohol policy” didn’t stop us from feeling “the need” to get bombed. It didn’t make it impossible to get liquor. In fact, all it really seemed to do was create the perception that alcohol was somehow a desired commodity, rather than just some cheap, nasty-tasting swill (which is what most of the liquor we consumed back then really was).

At other college campuses where there were no such rules (such as Illinois State University in neighboring Normal), the alcoholic atmosphere seemed like a free for all. I can remember being surrounded by the tavern ads encouraging us to come on by for weekend drink specials and other events meant to make life in a central Illinois college town seem a little more feisty.

I ALWAYS CHUCKLED at the “rules” that were in force at the University of Illinois in Urbana, where people had to be at least 21 to legally order a drink at the taverns that catered to campus life, but only had to be 19 to enter. So a 21-year-old guy could bring his 19-year-old girlfriend to the bar for a “date.” If somebody looked the other way and she got “served” by mistake, oh well.

I even remember the protests of 1984 on the ISU campus, where students upset that police were enforcing the drinking age laws marched through the downtown area and committed tens of thousands of dollars in vandalism. They “rampaged” through Normal, Ill., for beer.

There's also the fact that I had my first "legal" drink of alcohol some three days before I turned 21. I happened to be in the District of Columbia, where at the time the legal drinking age remained 18. So my first drink was the ultimate non-event.

What is worth mentioning of my college “experience” is that it is not at all out of the ordinary. And apparently, it really hasn’t changed much to this day.

THAT IS WHAT is behind the Amethyst Initiative, the effort by presidents from colleges as diverse as Dartmouth and Ohio State to accept what they see as “reality” and lower the drinking age.

They note it was at 18 or 19 (depending the particular state) for so many years, and they doubt that the safety of the general public has seriously been increased by raising the age to 21.

Call it surrender, or an acknowledgement of reality.

They just want to accept that students are going to drink alcohol. They’d like to think that removing the taint of scandal that now exists for 18-year-olds to get drunk would make them less likely to drink too much because it would not be some “big deal.”

THEY EVEN CITE studies showing that binge drinking is connected to some 500,000 injuries and 1,700 deaths of college students per year. It could be true. I remember the one significant student fatality that took place in Bloomington-Normal, Ill., when I was a student was an ISU student who was hit by a train when his foot got caught in the rails – in large part because he was inebriated.

It’s not like having rules against alcohol consumption stopped any of this drinking from taking place. Perhaps it is time to consider that the higher drinking age is as successful at stopping 18-year-olds from drinking as prohibition was from preventing the population at large from getting ahold of bootleg beer.

Like I said before, I went to a college that tried banning alcohol on campus (even though it was permitted back when the drinking age in Illinois was lower). That didn’t stop us from getting our hands on beer kegs or other stuff.

It didn’t stop me from having a couple of embarrassing moments that people who remember me from college always go out of their way to remind me of when I (too infrequently) see them.

AND I MUST confess, the one time during my four years of college that I got into sufficient trouble to have to see the Dean of Students was for a violation of the university alcohol policy, where I got the equivalent of the lecture Dean Wormer gave to Kent Dorfman in the film “Animal House.”

You remember, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

I can’t help but wonder how many teenagers would be willing to take such advice, if liquor weren’t given such a “glamorous” image on campus.


EDITOR’S NOTES: University officials across the country are starting to wonder if a legal drinking age of 21 (,0,7039288.story) is realistic.

Not all academics feel this way. Officials (,0,6477952.story) at Bradley University in Peoria want the drinking age in Illinois to remain at 21.

The one fact that all sides of this issue ought to agree on is that the “status quo” is ( unacceptable.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to the (Spring)Patch!

Barack Obama hopes to return to the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., for a Saturday campaign rally. Photograph provided by state of Illinois.

I have heard some people of the Illinois Democratic Party persuasion claim that if Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he’d be a Democrat.

I don’t know if I believe that. But I’m starting to wonder if Barack Obama does.

OBAMA IS GETTING his schedule ready for a series of public events during the upcoming week that are meant to lead him directly to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

One of those events is a rally outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, which is the building that Lincoln knew as the Illinois Statehouse (the current building dates back to 1877).

Some people want to believe that Obama is going to use the site where he began actively campaigning for president to announce his choice for a vice presidential running mate. I’m not sure I believe that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Illinois got its first look at the Obama/__________ ticket in Springfield on Saturday.

What makes it strange is that Springfield likes to think of itself as the quintessential Republican city. Since it can literally claim that Lincoln walked/slept/worked/ate here, it finds political people of the Democratic persuasion to be a strange breed.

YET NOW IT is a Democrat (and one from Chicago, at that) who is giving the Illinois capital city its moments of national glory.

And Saturday will likely be the last chance anybody in this state will have to actually see Obama prior to his late August trip to Denver – after which the campaign season kicks into high gear (as if it hasn’t been intense enough already).

For what it’s worth about Lincoln, I can’t help but think he would be disgusted with the “state’s rights” attitude that has taken over the Republican Party in recent years. But I’m not convinced he’d have looked to the Democrats as an alternative.

Lincoln in his lifetime was the man who gave up on the Whig Party to have a hand in creating the GOP. Who’s to say that if he were alive today, he wouldn’t have felt the need to create a third political party to take on the existing party hacks.

AND MAYBE, JUST maybe, that would have made him feel comfortable with Obama’s talk during this campaign season of government reform.

Although I’m sure he would have been the first to crack down on Barack if his actions fell short of his words.