Friday, November 27, 2009

Holidays not happy for all

One of the things I have learned from two-plus decades as a reporter-type person is that there are no guarantees when it comes to life.

People can go at any time, at any age, for just about any reason, and there doesn’t have to be any excuse for it.

IT’S NOT LIKE death takes a holiday during the holidays. All too often, people can die on or in proximity to a holiday to the point where that date gets “ruined,” so to speak, for the surviving family members.

That point got reinforced to me earlier this week when I wrote for a newspaper an obituary of a 37-year-old man whose funeral services will be held Friday and Saturday. Some might think it sad that Thanksgiving, a time when we’re supposed to be grateful for what we have, is when one family will always remember their loss.

Actually, it is more than one family, since the death of the son of Juan Andrade, head of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, is far from the only one to occur in recent days.

Joaquin Andrade is far from the only person on Friday on this planet who is the focus of activity at a funeral home. But I can sympathize with the Andrade family, as my own family managed to get hit with a Thanksgiving holiday death just a few years ago.

SO I TOO can understand how this particular day, when some people want us to think that the focus of the world is on commerce and shopping, might be less than a happy occasion.

It was just a few years ago that my eldest cousin, Gary, suffered an accident on the Saturday following Thanksgiving while doing repairs to his home – an accident that wound up putting him into a coma for a couple of days before dying.

As it turns out, parts of my cousin live on, as his next of kin approved the use of organs from his body for transplant into people who needed the parts in order to continue living themselves.

But even in that aspect there is a bit of sadness from my family’s perspective, as my mother is a woman who suffers from kidney troubles and who in recent years has been waiting for a replacement. My aunt kept in mind that her sister could use the kidney, and the medical and legal procedures were initiated to see about transplant.

THERE WAS A period of a few hours when I thought my brother and I were on the verge of rushing our mother to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood so she could undergo the surgery for transplant.

Ultimately, my cousin’s kidney was not a close-enough match to my mother for the surgery to be possible. My cousin from California wound up having his kidney inserted into someone from the Chicago area, and I’m sure that person and his/her family are thankful.

From my end, I remember these next few days as the anniversary of when I lost my eldest cousin AND got to see my mother worked up into an emotional frenzy, only to see her get nothing in the end.

To this day, my mother still awaits the day when a matching kidney will be found, and endures the hassle of dialysis treatments three times a week in order to keep herself alive.

NOW I KNOW some people will argue that I should be thankful my mother was still alive, and that I was able to enjoy a Thanksgiving Day dinner this week with her and my brother.

They’d be right. I should feel good that my mother can generate the physical strength to keep going, and also make plans about how she’d like to do things up a little bigger than usual for Christmas this year.

I also realize the timing of my mother’s situation was a complete fluke.

Nobody deliberately did anything that made it coincide with Thanksgiving, which means that it would be wrong to think that someone is responsible for the thoughts of my cousin and my mother that are going to pop into my head every year for the rest of my life – which could end tomorrow or could last another forty or so years.


But one will have to excuse me if I can’t get all worked up on Friday over the thought of rushing out to a shopping mall to fight my way through the crowds to check out all the sales promoted in the advertising fliers that cluttered up my Thanksgiving Day newspapers.

For me, this is the day that I speculate in my mind about the fleeting quality of life. The idea of engaging in commerce seems so trivial, particularly since I have just under a month to do my holiday shopping (unless I don’t make it to the holidays, in which case it doesn’t matter.

One other point I should make is that my cousin’s memory does live on through the Internet. My aunt helped create a foundation (at in my cousin’s memory that provides comfort for those people who lose a loved one – particularly if young children are involved in the mourning process. Which at least creates some meaningful purpose out of sadness.


Does it matter any longer?

The Washington Post is miffed that Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., didn't get a more harsh penalty than the letter of admonition that the Senate's leadership sent him last week concerning the circumstances under which he got the ability to complete the Senate term to which Barack Obama was elected in 2004.

Personally, I have a hard time getting worked up over the circumstances because Burris is leaving after next year. I still feel that those people who wanted a special election to be held this year to find a replacement, just so we could then have another real election next year, were being ridiculous.

I HAD PREDICTED Burris would face censure by the Senate for the circumstances (it was clear to anyone thinking logically that nothing illegal happened, certainly nothing that would warrant charges of perjury). It turns out even I overstated the issue.

I still say the real mistake was made by the Illinois General Assembly back when they were obsessed with punishing Rod Blagojevich for his alleged misdeeds (many of which amount to treating the state Legislature as though it was irrelevant). They should have focused their attention on taking away the governor's ability to pick Obama's replacement.

Instead, they worried about imposing punishment following his indictment and got their impeachment. We, the people of Illinois, got Roland, Roland, Roland in return. Now, it is time for us to move past this whole mess and focus our attention on finding the person who will represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate for the next six years. Wasting much more time and attention on Burris' circumstances is little more than pathetic.

But for those of you who want to read the Post's hissy fit can find it at


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A decade too late?

The Chicago White Sox acquired a pair of players this week who, five years after they retire, will have some baseball types talking seriously about whether they belong in the Hall of Fame.

If by chance these deals had been done, say, a decade ago, we'd have people talking about how the White Sox were going all-out to ensure they will be contenders in 2010, and how they'd likely be the favorites to win the American League championship next season.

BUT INSTEAD OF making these deals in 1999, we're seeing them come along in 2009. Let's be honest, Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones aren't what they used to be on the playing field.

Which means that the amount of money they're able to command on the free agent market isn't the big bucks of the top stars. Assuming that both men have top-notch seasons and play well and receive every incentive bonus possible, they will each be paid less than $1.5 million (less than the major league average salary these days). Which is why they were available to the White Sox, who signed them both up.

There are those people who will argue that Vizquel is one of the best shortstops to ever play Major League Baseball, particularly when it comes to shortstops from Venezuela. Considering that the White Sox have had some of those shortstops during their history, that is something of a statement.

And as for Jones, he is definitely the best ballplayer to ever come out of Curacao -- and one of the top ballplayers of this era.

YET BOTH ARE past their prime, which is why Vizquel will get to finish his career on the South Side (becoming yet another aging Cleveland Indian who gets one last stretch of a major league season in Chicago). Should we start thinking of Cleveland as yet another extension of the White Sox' minor league system, producing ballplayers for our city's team at a point when they might have a season or so left?

As for Jones, he's no longer the perennial all-star of the Atlanta Braves. He's another part-time player, although the writeups announcing the deal on Wednesday make it sound like he's got the potential to be one of the White Sox' big bats for '10.

So now, the White Sox have an aging infielder to act as an all-around backup and an aging outfielder/designated hitter.

On one level, it might be nice to have veteran ballplayers whose experience rubs off on the younger talent whom the White Sox are counting on to guide them through the next few seasons of the 2010s.

BUT IF THAT doesn't work out, then 2010 has the potential to be the year that aging athletes from the socially insensitive teams of Cleveland and Atlanta got to spend some time wearing black and white.

Perhaps that is what made them want to come to Chicago. Playing for a team named for uncolored sweat sox isn't quite as embarrassing as having to go through a season wearing a cap with that ridiculous Chief Wahoo, or hearing fans in the stands doing an "Indian" chant in a southern drawl.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The only real change is that we have to quit pretending Oprah’s a Chicagoan

It amuses me to see the way some people have become so worked up over the fact that the Oprah Winfrey Show, as we have known it for the past three decades, will cease to exist.

For it’s not like Oprah is going to disappear from television, or from the public consciousness. In fact, she may very well become even more omnipresent in the future than she has been to date.

IT’S JUST THAT those of us Chicagoans who like to recite a name of internationally-known celebrities from our city have always gotten a kick out of including Winfrey’s name on the list – which also usually includes Michael Jordan (who also has left our fair city).

Heck, even Jim McMahon (the punky QB of ’85 Chicago Bears fame) has left the Chicago area, recently selling the suburban mansion in which he had lived since the days when he really was a star (and not just a former footballer).

Now, who are we going to claim as our city’s big star? Are we literally going to have to hope that Barack Obama makes a few more trips to Chicago to keep his South Side connections alive?

Or are we really going to have to start thinking of Richard M. Daley as our city’s big wig? That would be lame.

PERSONALLY, I DON’T think it detracts from Chicago’s positives that Oprah won’t really be a Chicagoan, because in my book, she hasn’t really been a part of the city’s daily routine for so long.

She may live in her condominium high in the sky above the Magnificent Mile during the months when her show is in production (and when commuting from elsewhere would be just too much of a pain in the butt). But she has that L.A.-area home she’d rather think of as her full-time address.

So the rumor mill speculation that she wants to shift herself full-time to living and working elsewhere isn’t that much of a shock.

Oprah, in my mind, was always the woman who was born elsewhere, worked in Baltimore before landing the first Chicago broadcast job, which she parlayed into the talk show that is an international phenomenon.

THE ONLY SHOCK in my mind is why she didn’t shift to a climate with more pleasant weather many years ago.

By now, those of us who care (and even many of us who don’t) know that she has no intention of signing a new syndication deal for her current show, which airs live on Channel 7 and turns up in the afternoon in most other broadcast markets.

I still remember when I lived and worked in Springfield, Ill., and Oprah was the lead-in program to the local newscast on the CBS affiliate based out of Champaign. Oprah was a significant factor in that station being the Number One ranked local newscast in the Champaign/Decatur/Springfield television market.

For the rest of the world, Oprah’s change is no change.

FOR IT WILL give her time to focus on developing a new cable television channel of her own – which means she will have total control over her production (not that she doesn’t pretty much control every facet already).

So for those of us who want to know the bottom line, it means that Oprah will become one of those features that people will be able to watch if they have cable television. Considering how prevalent cable programming is, I doubt that her viewership will become significantly smaller.

It will be a matter of people being able to watch the program whenever they want – either by catching it live or in reruns throughout the day on the cable station, or watching whatever snippets they choose to whenever they feel like going on the website.

As far as Chicagoans are concerned, the only real change will be that they don’t watch her on Channel 7 any longer (at least not after September 2011). Which means the management of WLS-TV may have a legitimate gripe. What are they going to come up with to fill that hour of time?

BUT SHOULD ANYONE get all that worked up just because Channel 7 has a dilemma to confront in just under two years?

If anything, the closest comparison to Winfrey might very well be Eppie Lederer. Remember Ann Landers, who spent some three decades as the advice columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times before deciding in 1987 to shift to the Chicago Tribune?

The rest of the country noticed no change. We in Chicago got used to reading Ann Landers’ advice in a different newspaper.

Now, we in Chicago will eventually get used to watching Winfrey’s broadcast gabbing on a different channel, one that will take advantage of the changes in the way our society watches television programming.

THE DAY LIKELY will come when many of us will barely remember Winfrey’s Channel 7 connection, and will probably think it odd that we could once only see Oprah when it aired at 9 a.m. – instead of whenever we had time for her.

Those of us who find Oprah to be a little overbearing likely will continue to ignore her, to no avail – since her fans seem to outnumber us.

And those people who seriously believe that life as we Chicagoans have known it is scheduled to come to an end in two years, I’d say you and Mayor Daley (who thinks Oprah is inclined to leave Chicago because of a few negative naysayers over her show’s public celebration earlier this year on Michigan Avenue) need to take a valium and relax.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Terrorism turns to partisan politics

Call it the campaign strategy for 2010 – any Democrat who doesn’t play along with the GOP attempt to scare Chicago with talk of terrorists hitting the Willis Tower or O’Hare International Airport is going to get attacked anyway.

Now I understand that campaigns are about criticism and trying to differentiate oneself from the opposition. I also realize they can get nasty pretty quick. People who are too sensitive ought not to be running for elective office.

YET THE TYPE of criticism that is coming from the proposal to put inmates from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba (the so-called terrorists who act in a perverted take on Islam) to the vacant state prison at Thomson, Ill., is so shallow as to be offensive.

What I’m referring to is a series of press releases I have been receiving in my e-mail in recent days in which GOP officials are using interchangeable rhetoric to dredge this issue up against anyone who dares to go through a political life with a “D” rather than an “R” after their name.

Some of these releases have come from the gubernatorial campaign of Andrew McKenna, while others have come in the name of the Illinois Republican Party.

The statements I have seen have been critical of Democratic Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias, and Reps. William Foster and Jerry Costello. None of them have been quite so quick as to state a stance on the issue of the inmate shift.

SO THE REPUBLICANS are going out of their way to criticize them for being quiet – claiming that a real candidate would have jumped the gun and shot his mouth off, just like they have.

But the thing about all these statements I have seen is that the rhetoric is nearly identical in each statement, which makes me think it is a party strategy that is being earmarked for use against all Democrats.

Which means that there probably are many more statements in circulation criticizing other Democrats, across Illinois and the nation, for this very same issue.

It bothers me to think that anyone has the gall to think that rational people would be swayed by someone who wants us to believe that thinking before opening one’s mouth is a negative trait.

NOW AS I wrote earlier this week, this issue involving the fate of the Guantanamo inmates is one that has become a partisan mess – Democrats generally are supportive because President Barack Obama has touted the idea, while Republicans don’t want Obama to get anything that might be considered a positive achievement.

So they’re trash-talking the idea, even though it makes sense and is a solution to a problem that has to be addressed.

It is sad to say that at least some Democrats are taking the rhetoric that moving such inmates to Illinois makes Chicago a bigger target on the international scene too seriously.

Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Ill., has made some statements in recent days that imply she has problems with the idea of the so-called terrorist suspects being brought to Illinois. She represents a district in the outer Chicago suburbs that once was considered a Republican stronghold, and is one that the GOP would like to have their candidate win back come the ’10 elections.

SO SHE WENT so far as to make the statements in line with the Republican rhetoric so that they can’t use the issue against her in their campaign leaflets and television spots once the general election cycle picks up next fall.

It is the same logic that caused then-Sen. Obama a few years ago to vote for construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, even though the Democratic Party “position” was that such a wall was a waste of federal funds, in addition to being a generally stupid concept.

The Illinois GOP went so far as to issue a statement praising Bean for taking a GOP-like stance on the issue, which means they’re now trying to stir up resentment amongst Democrats against Bean.

Anything that helps weaken her, it could work. The fact that Obama was on the record as backing that border wall was one of the reasons that Latinos were more inclined in the Democratic presidential primary last year to support Hillary R. Clinton instead of the concept of Obama-mania.

IF NOT FOR the general disgust of Latino voters for the GOP these days, it probably would have hurt him in the general election too.

This tactic is more about Republicans trying cheaply to define an issue on their terms. I’d like to think the electorate is too sensible to fall for this.

Otherwise, my e-mail box is going to be overflowed with the same stupid statement sent over and over, with the only variable being the “fill in the blank” for the name of yet another political person to be criticized.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

It’s all about Election Day, nothing more

It doesn’t matter whether Todd Stroger prevails in his attempt to keep in place an increase in the sales tax that Cook County government approved just over a year ago.

This is an issue that ultimately will be decided by the courts, and it is one whose primary purpose is to keep the issue of taxes in the minds of voters on that day in early February when they walk into the voter booth (although these days, it’s more like standing out in the open near a voting machine) to cast ballots for the office of county board president.

BECAUSE THE COUNTY officials were unable to resolve this issue by the end of September, it became a done deal that the increase in the county’s portion of the sales tax would remain in place for the rest of this fiscal year.

As things stand now, even if the political maneuvers are completed next month, that tax would not decline one bit until the middle of 2010 (July 1, to be exact).

So for those of you who are deluded enough to think that politicians are somehow trying to make for a merrier Christmas shopping season, forget it.

This is all about taking a vote sometime in December, so that on Feb. 2 the issue will be on the minds of voters (reinforced, of course, by many campaign advertisements that will air on television and radio between now and Election Day).

THE PEOPLE WHO want to view Stroger as the spawn of Satan (instead of John Stroger) will want to appear heroic for taking an action that will drop the sales tax from 10.25 percent (in Chicago proper) down to 9.75 percent (which is still one of the highest sales taxes in the nation).

Stroger will make himself appear to be heroic by standing up for the medical needs of the county’s lower-income portion of the population. He claims every single penny already being collected by the county is needed to maintain the county hospitals (one of which is named for his father) and health clinics.

All of the posturing that took place in recent months that came up again earlier this week when the Cook County Board held a special meeting to once again pursue this issue is about electoral politics.

That is why I became disgusted a long time ago with this whole issue. There are no “good guys” in this debate – even though everyone is anxious to portray themselves in such a manner.

THE FACT THAT one side in this partisan debate managed to get the General Assembly to pass new laws to make it easier for them to override a veto by Stroger makes me only wonder why state officials were so eager to get themselves involved in someone else’s political scrap.

If the state were serious about wanting to help bolster sales, perhaps they’d consider decreasing their share of the sales tax (since about three-fifths of that 10.25 percent sales tax goes to the state). But I would guess that state officials would claim they need every penny they can get their hands on these days – similar, in fact, to the rhetoric being used these days by Todd Stroger.

So what happens now?

With that state law change made last month, the Stroger critics are confident they will finally be able to prevail in the war of political procedures.

THEY VOTED 13-5 earlier this week to lower the county’s portion of the sales tax, and after Stroger vetoes the decrease, they probably will be able to keep at least 11 members of the county board in line to override the veto.

So the Stroger critics win? Only until Stroger follows through on his threat made this week to drag this issue into court, claiming that any change in state law cannot take effect until the new term of the county board (which would mean until the end of next year).

It is a novel argument. It may be legitimate (I’m not enough of a legal expert to be sure). Ultimately, it will be up to a judge somewhere to make the call on whether the effort being made in coming weeks to overturn the sales tax hike that Stroger sought last year is constitutional.

Even that will be subject to appeals.

SO EVEN THOUGH the people who are getting all worked up over the sales tax issue these days are only concerned about the Election Day factor (and not one day longer), this could very well wind up becoming an issue that will be resolved someday by the Illinois Supreme Court.

If it turns out that the tax remains in place until that day, we could be paying that 10.25 percent on our Chicago purchases for quite some time.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Will Palin become a political figure on the national scene, or just a bad memory?

There are those who think that Sarah Palin is destined to become a leader of the conservative political movement, even though one poll taken recently shows only 23 percent of the electorate thinks favorably of the one-time Alaska governor.

Actually, that figure sounds about right to me. One in four people is about how big I always figured the conservative movement to truly be, even though it consists of people who deliberately isolate themselves from the bulk of society so that they rarely come into contact with others.

WHICH ALSO EXPLAINS the fact that Palin is now doing a book tour that deliberately ignores large cities and hits the smaller towns (as comedian George Lopez recently put it, she’s ignoring all the places where people actually read) that usually get overlooked when it comes to pseudo-literary events.

Now I am not among those who signed up in advance to have a copy of her book reserved for me (so many people did do so that the book was a “best-seller” before a single copy was sold).

Part of it is that I have rarely been one of those people who feels the need to get something the instant it hits the stores. I actually think that those kind of people waste time with the actions they take to ensure they’re “one of the first” to see something.

It’s not like her book gets any better if you’re the first in your particular community to read it.

AND YES, I still feel a bit burned by the fact that I did go so far as to buy a copy of “The Governor” by Rod Blagojevich. As prose, it was pedestrian. As a source for political insight, it was dreck.

So I’m willing to wait a bit before reading Palin. She can blame the lack of a sale to me on Blagojevich, if she wants.

I doubt that Palin is capable of writing anything any better than Milorod. For those of you who argue she was once a journalist, I’d respond she was just a small-town broadcaster who moved on with her life because she couldn’t (or didn’t want to) hack it professionally.

So what should we make of this new volume, the early reports of which are focusing on the fact that she is critical of her running-mate, two-time presidential candidate John McCain.

SHE THINKS THE senator from Arizona ran a campaign in 2008 that was unfocused, did not properly bash Barack Obama about, then tried to dump all the blame upon her when it failed on Election Day.

Some would argue she’s being ungrateful toward the official who put her in a position to become a national political figure (it’s not like Alaska governors who can’t bring themselves to finish the one term they were elected to are going to be in great demand otherwise) in the first place.

But to me, it makes all the sense in the world for her to distance herself from McCain. She wants that 23 percent of the population to think of her as the opposite of the man whom some conservatives in this country were always wary of (they rejected him for George W. Bush in the 2000 GOP primary, and likely would have in ’08 if they had been able to get their support organized behind a single conservative primary opponent).

She’s going to be working the Books-a-Million and the Wal-mart book sections and other places of small-town America that carry a few books mixed with Bibles and some trashy magazines.

PALIN WILL SIGN those books and toss out “you betchas” and try to craft an image for people who are inclined to believe anyone who tells them the country went askew on that day back in November of 2008 when Todd Palin was denied the chance to be the vice-president’s spouse (instead, we get Jill Biden).

She’s reaching out to the 43 percent of Southern Republican people whom a recent poll (commissioned by The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C.) said were pleased when Rep. Addison G. “Joe” Wilson, R-S.C., shouted “you lie” at Obama when he talked about the need for immigration reform.

By comparison, only 11 percent of Southern Republicans were offended by Wilson’s behavior, compared to 48 percent of Democrats who thought Wilson showed himself to be a boor.

Palin wants their support. She may solidify it. But I wonder if in the process, she is cementing an image that will never appeal to anyone outside of the 23 percent support she has now?

THERE ARE THOSE people who claim that the more liberal elements of our society who are upset Obama is not acting fast enough on their pet issues will simply not vote in the 2010 elections, thereby making it possible for Republicans to make electoral gains.

Will Palin be the excuse come the 2012 elections that moderate Republicans use to sit back and refuse to cast ballots, thereby allowing Democratic political candidates to regain anything they may supposedly lose next year?


Where’s Bob Wallace?

I’ll admit it. I watched WBBM-TV, Channel 2’s 10 p.m. newscast last week Friday just to see how the return (for a single night) of Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson would come off.

The reminiscing was intriguing, although I’m wondering how many 20-year-olds were turned off by being reminded of the significance of an era occurring before they even existed. Then again, who am I kidding?

TWENTY-YEAR-OLDS don’t watch television news, they just watch the clips of a story or two off the station website, before going to YouTube to find a “cool” video of somebody doing something stupid.

Clumsy cheerleaders, anyone?

I am old enough to remember the days when WBBM was a significant player in the Chicago news scene (and when the idea that “happy talk” WLS-TV, Channel 7 would ever top them would have been considered absurd).

When my mother and I watched the newscasts on television in my household during my youth, it was always Channel 2.

SO IT WAS nice to see the chatter between Kurtis and Jacobson and Harry Porterfield (before showing us that freaky magician doing that levitation trick with cigarettes). It was even amusing to hear the youthful sports anchor say he only got to be on the air that night because Johnny Morris was busy (although us real old-timers remember the days when Brent Musburger was the local sports guy who would have been covering Morris the football player for the Bears).

I chuckled when I learned that Jacobson’s “perspective” commentary about life these days at City Hall so got under Richard M. Daley’s skin that Hizzoner Jr. felt compelled to bash back. Like father, like son.

But I hope that WBBM officials have enough sense (they probably don’t, most television executives don’t) to realize the fact that they got a ratings boost that night (WBBM was Number Two in that timeslot with a 7.3 share, not that far behind WLS's 8.3 share) was exactly because the Kurtis/Jacobson pairing was a one-time event.

For better or worse, times have moved on. Trying to pretend we’re back in 1973 with Bill and Walter giving us the news from the ‘BBM newsroom (with Jacobson using a specially-crafted chair to cover up the fact that he is a height-challenged man) would fail.

THE GAG WOULD get old too quick.

Besides, in my mind, two factors were missing from Friday night. One would have been Mike Royko to write a newspaper column the next day finding some reason to puncture Jacobson’s pomposity.

The other was the absence of the one-time feature reporter, Bob Wallace, whose cutesy reports from assorted festivals and events across the Chicago area still linger in my mind some three decades later.

A part of me believes semi-seriously that WBBM hasn’t been the same since the day Wallace stopped covering food festivals for Channel 2 news.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Could “THOMSON, Ill.” become one of the hotspot datelines on the planet?

To me, one of the great shames of Illinois government of the past decade is that we are the state with serious prison crowding issues that built a new maximum-security correctional facility – only to discover that we couldn’t afford to operate it.

We’re like the lottery winner who spends their one-time riches on a big mansion that they can’t afford to keep up, so it becomes decrepit. That makes our state government more buffoonish than anything that was ever done or said by Rod Blagojevich.

THAT IS THE situation with regards to the maximum-security prison located near Thomson, a town of just over 1,000 people in far northwestern Illinois. It is a town that never had much to draw attention to it, until it became the site of a prison that sits largely unused.

To me, anything that allows that new prison facility to be put to use is a good thing.

So it is because of that concept that I am inclined to look favorably on the political people who think that the inmates currently being held at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba ought to be moved to the facility in northwest Illinois.

I have long thought that the situation in Guantanamo was an embarrassment to the United States by giving our international enemies a legitimate issue that could be used against us, one that goes so far as to undermine our sense that we have a morally superior cause in the fight against terrorist activity.

REGARDLESS OF WHERE they are moved, the people being held at Guantanamo need to be moved from that facility where they are being held indefinitely without charges, to a situation where they would be in the criminal justice system of the United States.

The argument has always been, where to put them.

To me, moving them to Thomson, Ill., makes sense in that it puts them into a modern corrections facility in an isolated part of Illinois.

In short, a national embarrassment would be erased by moving the inmates to Illinois, which would erase a state government embarrassment.

NOW I CAN already envision the critics, since this issue has already become politicized. Democratic officials largely support the idea of moving the inmates to Thomson, in part because it would require a mass hiring of people to properly staff the corrections facility.

Those promises made a decade ago that all kinds of jobs would be created by a new prison in northwest Illinois would finally come true.

Republican officials, meanwhile, are largely speaking out against the issue. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., used the issue this past weekend to stir up rhetoric critical of Democrats and Obama.

His challengers in the Republican primary for Senate largely are in agreement with him. This may actually be something that has brought the sides together.

HONESTLY, I THINK their true objection is that this is an Obama-supported proposal. If George W. Bush had ever suggested the idea during his presidency, these same people likely would have raced to see who could endorse it most quickly.

Their rhetoric says they hate the idea because they don’t like Thomson’s proximity to Chicago and Rockford – both of which have federal courthouses for the U.S. District of Northern Illinois.

It would make sense that if inmates facing criminal charges related to international terrorism were to be put on trial in the federal court system, they’d likely be sent to Chicago.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald could wind up having to take on countless cases related to terrorism, which might cut into the amount of time his staff can spend seeking to prosecute Democratic Chicago political people.

BUT SERIOUSLY, THE GOP critics say they don’t like the idea of Chicago having these trials because it makes our city “a target.”

They sense that the kinds of people in the Middle East who pledge their allegiance to the memory of Osama bin Laden (I don’t know if he’s still alive, I find it hard to believe that a man who required kidney dialysis treatments could survive for too long while living on the lam) will seek revenge every time one of their cohorts goes on trial, and they will attack the city where those trials will be held.

Excuse me for not being overly concerned, largely because I have enough sense to realize Chicago already is a target for such activity. I don’t believe that this change in procedure would significantly change the amount of attention that the third largest U.S. city (and the largest in the Heartland) would get from people crazed enough to try detonating a “suitcase” bomb of nuclear material at the corner of State and Madison.

In fact, I find people who try to dredge up such rhetoric to dump on the idea to be guilty of little more than fear mongering, which makes me wonder if we should fear the GOP as much as we do the would-be terrorists.

NOT REALLY. I realize that most of the ideologues of the GOP are merely being foolish, not venal.

But this is one situation where we ought to put aside the partisan rhetoric and consider a solution that would resolve several problems. For as I wrote earlier, those inmates at Guantanamo are going to have to be put somewhere. Maintaining that status quo clearly is unacceptable.

As far as I am concerned, the fact that the Republican candidates for Senate and governor are so quick to try to use this as an issue makes me wonder if any of them are worth receiving our votes come Election Day.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Do we love him, really love him?

I must admit to being unsure what to think of the fact that Forbes magazine picked President Barack Obama “numero uno” on its list of the most powerful people on Planet Earth.

I realize its more symbolic of the influence that every U.S. president has, than anything Obama himself has accomplished during what is coming on his first year in office.

BUT COMING SO close after the U.S. elections that many political pundits were all too eager to interpret as a blow to Obama’s influence makes me wonder how premature those blows to Obama’s reputation were.

Or could it be that any attempt to legitimately analyze the Obama presidency is premature. It most likely is an activity that won’t seriously begin until some time about the year 2020.

Honestly, I don’t know if I buy into the notion that the Obama presidency has been all that powerful, in that it has been stagnated by the Republican opposition that views its success record as being how many accomplishments can it deprive to Obama’s record.

If Obama is truly the Number One powerful person on Earth, does that mean the Republican caucus is Number One-A?

I WOULDN’T GO that far, so the idea that Obama ranks Number One is most likely an effort by Forbes to put people on top of the list that they think potential readers will have heard of, combined with a few picks (such as the narcotrafficker from Mexico who made the list at Number Forty One) meant to stir up controversy.

But I also never bought into the thought last week that the elections taking place around the country were a sign that the people of the United States of America had managed to turn away from Obamamania and were now showing they wanted Republicans to govern us.

That is just as ridiculous an idea as thinking that Obama’s receipt last month of the Nobel Peace Prize was evidence that he is one of the all-time greats to live in the White House (it merely means some elements are hoping to give him some more credibility so he can achieve that all-time great status).

What makes me downplay such a thought in my mind is the fact that the Obama critics these days are of two separate mindsets. There’s no way they will ever unite into a single force, because each considers to be the other the central focus of all the problems confronting this country these days.

WE HAVE THE social conservatives who are disgusted by the fact that Obama is president and whose vehement opposition was expected. It will last until the day that Obama is no longer president (whether that comes in 2013 or 2017 has yet to be decided).

But there also are those liberal elements of our society who wanted a hard-core change in the way things were being done. To those people, Obama is way too concerned about reaching out to the conservatives and trying to get at least minimal support for his ideas.

They are the ones who think the lesson Obama should learn from the health care reform process this year is that his opposition doesn’t want to be engaged in the process, and in fact merely wants to throw a wrench into the gears of government to prevent much of anything from happening.

In short, if Obama truly were reaching out to the latter group, he would have the conservatives even more worked up than they already are.

I KNOW SOME pundits are pondering that the more liberal elements who are disappointed with Obama will wind up staying home on future election days, thereby making it possible for the conservative element of our society to be a large-enough segment of the electorate to win elections.

I’m not convinced that will happen, not even because Republicans managed to win elections in Virginia (which by my “book” is a southern state that is part of the GOP base, the fact that Obama took it’s Electoral College votes in 2008 was probably a sign of how weak an opposing candidate John McCain was).

The reality is that there are going to be many incidents in the coming years that will constitute the “ups” and “downs” of the Obama presidency. Barack will have his good days and bad days. It is only now that we can see the whole of the presidency of George W. Bush in its entirety that we can start doing serious study how how ineffective the era was.

Perhaps it is the one-time history student in me that is talking (where I was trained to look at the big picture, rather than the minutia), but trying to figure now how good Obama is in the West Wing is just an exercise in trivia.

WHICH MEANS I’M not about to rush out to buy myself a copy of Forbes magazine just because they came up with a list that puts Obama two slots ahead of Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Because by the time I finally do see the magazine on a newsstand, there’s likely to be some other event or incident that will be interpreted by the more shallow among us to claim Obama is back in the dumps again.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is Sosa’s skin truly an issue?

It’s Wrigley Field’s fault!

He may not have used those exact words, yet that was the sentiment expressed by Sammy Sosa earlier this week in trying to offer a serious explanation to the question being put forth by some people with nothing better to inquire about.

“WHAT THE #@*& did you do to your face?!?”

We’ve been seeing repeated use of the images of the one-time Chicago Cubs slugger who appeared at the Grammy Latino Awards last weekend with a face that had a funky glow to it. Some people say they think Sosa, a Dominican who clearly has African ethnic origins in his background, is trying to look white.

Personally, I don’t think Sosa looks like a white man in those pictures – although comedian George Lopez in his new talk show on TBS has made daily wisecracks about Sosa’s appearance that imply that very thought.

In fact, there’s something about the glow in his eyes that makes me think Sosa is telling the truth when he says it is a matter of the lighting in place when the pictures were took that gave his skin such a pale appearance.

HECK, THERE ARE photographs of President Barack Obama (particularly from his days when he served in the Illinois Legislature) where, because of the way the biracial man was “lit,” you’d think he was an Anglo having a bad hair day.

So it is possible that Sammy isn’t doing something too weird to his appearance, even though some people want to compare him to Michael Jackson the singer, who underwent so much appearance-altering surgery over the course of his adult life that the black man looked downright inhuman by life’s end.

I also believe that the people who are trying to create an issue about Sosa these days are saying something more about themselves than they are about Sammy. They’re the ones trying to make an issue out of appearance – even though what he does to his face truly ought to be his own business.

Some people literally have tried to imply a racial motive, as though Sosa was somehow trying to make himself appear to be less black than he truly is – a claim that Sosa himself denies.

I’M INCLINED TO believe him, because the reality of the situation is that we in this country and people in most Latin American nations have that differing perspective on race – the idea of people being “white” or “black” is purely a U.S. creation, whereas most people from the rest of the Americas know that most everybody is some sort of racial mixture.

So when Sosa told the Univision Spanish-language television network in an interview that aired this week he is “not a racist” and is “not like that,” he’s probably telling the truth.

For the record, Sosa admits he is doing things to himself. He says he’s using a special skin cream that has had the effect of slightly lightening his facial complexion – even though he says the photographs that have been garnering so much attention in recent days exaggerate the reality.

Since I haven’t seen Sosa face-to-face in recent days, I can’t say for sure whether that is honest.

BUT WHAT CRACKS me up the most is an interview Sosa gave to Univision that aired earlier this week. He explained that using the skin cream was justified because of all those years he played for the Chicago Cubs, who all baseball fans know play a disproportionate share of their ballgames during the daylight hours.

As Sosa puts it, playing all those baseball games in Chicago during the summer afternoon for so many years left his skin dried out and damaged.

I always suspected that attending day games at Wrigley Field was harmful because it meant that people were sitting in the bleachers getting drunk (how else to put up with so much bad baseball?) instead of going to work and earning a living.

Now, we know it also is a harmful place for the ballplayers themselves. Sosa is resorting to trying to use a special skin cream from Europe to try to “un-dry” his face and give him a youthful glamour. He won’t say which brand of cream he’s using, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d suddenly be forthcoming if the company were willing to pay him something resembling an endorsement fee.

THEN AGAIN, WOULD the company want it known that their product has had such an effect on Sosa’s face? As much as it might be his own business to do that to himself, the overall effect is that he is giving his face an otherworldly appearance that is just as ridiculous than some of the breast implants received by many female actresses.

If it reads like I’m saying it would be more accurate to compare Sosa to Pamela Anderson rather than to Michael Jackson, you’d be correct.

And the bottom line is that I really doubt that most people in our society have such perfect lives that their own problems deserve less attention than worrying about what Sammy did to his face.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Are cornrows truly that subversive to athletic ideals? Or is it just hair?

All too often, I read and hear rhetoric from people who claim our society would be better off if we emphasized our so-called commonalities instead of our individuality – particularly when it comes to racial or ethnic differences among us.

Of course, what that usually means is that the person in question views themselves as the ideal, and thinks everybody else ought to conform to their way of thinking.

I SEE THAT as being part of the problem with an incident last month at a Rush Street nightclub where college kids from St. Louis were denied admission because the club’s officials did not approve of their attire (which might have been hip-hop inspired, but is often seen these days on youth of all races).

It also is, in my opinion, at the heart of an incident at a junior high school in Portage, Ind. A 13-year-old boy (who is black) wants to play basketball for the Willowbrook Middle School team, and has the ability to do so.

But The Times of Northwest Indiana (a newspaper based in nearby Munster) reported recently that he has been threatened with being cut from the team because of his hair.

The coach in question is one of those who has a dress code governing the appearance of his athletes. And one of the rules is that the athletes cannot wear their hair in braids.

IN THIS PARTICULAR case, the 13-year-old wears his hair in that style seen among some African-American people known as cornrows. His parents told the newspaper that they consider such a hairstyle to be a cultural issue. They say the boy’s grandfather and great-grandfather wore their hair in similar ways.

Hence, the boy does not plan to change his hair. His parents support his decision.

Now before those of you who are ideologically inclined to believe that black people usually make too much out of such incidents start sending me messages telling me of the importance of a coach instilling discipline among his athletes – even down to such small details as appearance – let me say I agree with you.

I can understand the idea of teaching young athletes that a neat appearance shows that one takes care of oneself. That is an appropriate lesson, particularly when dealing with kids as young as the ones on this team.

BUT I CAN’T help but think this particular coach has his cultural ideals too far in the past. I suspect his rule about “no braids” was set out of an idea that only girls would want to wear their hair in braids. It certainly isn’t from any realistic idea of not permitting sloppy hairstyles on his ballplayers.

For my own opinion of men who wear their hair in cornrows is that it must take a lot of time and effort to maintain that particular hairstyle.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this particular boy spends more time caring for his hair and keeping it neatly braided and clean than any of his other would-be teammates.

So the idea that this boy is somehow violating a dress and appearance coded by being sloppy in his appearance is nothing more than absurd.

IT IS MORE due to a coach who imposed these rules when he got the job at the middle school three years ago. He justifies them by saying he has had the same dress and appearance code in place everywhere else he has coached for the past 22 years.

It strikes me as a coach whose idea of appearance is Anglo in nature, even though it doesn’t prevent him from having black athletes (like most coaches he wants to win, so he wants the best ballplayers regardless of race) on his team. But his tolerance only goes so far as their willingness to comply with his Anglo-inspired image of an athlete.

So where do we go from here?

Willowcreek’s workouts are expected to start seriously this week, and school officials say they support their coach. Meanwhile, the boy’s parents have retained an attorney.

HE’S NOT THREATENING a lawsuit. Not yet, anyway. But he has told reporter-types that the school’s conduct is disrespectful of the boy’s heritage and culture.

So this situation has the potential to become incredibly ugly unless calmer heads prevail.

But whenever we as a society start making judgments about people based primarily on appearance, it means that calmer heads are being deliberately ignored.

It is what happened at Original Mother’s in Chicago (which at least issued an apology to the college kids in question) and it is happening again at Willowcreek. It likely will happen again very soon, possibly in your neighborhood. That is why it is wrong for people to want to downplay such incidents as somehow being freak occurrences. They’re really all too typical.

THAT, I’M AFRAID, brings to my mind an expression I haven’t used since my own junior high days some three decades ago, but one that seems all too appropriate to describe these incidents today.

“It reeks.”


Please be patient

My "technical" difficulties are not fully resolved. But I'm also not anxious to just leave this weblog (and its sister site) sitting unattended.

Hence, there will be periodic commentary, although not the daily routine you regular readers have come to expect. I hope to resume that daily schedule as soon as possible.


Friday, November 6, 2009

It's not laziness, just technology

I am experiencing computer problems that prevented me from filing the standard commentary readers of this weblog would have expected for Friday. As of now, I have yet to resolve these problems, but hope to do so as soon as is possible.

So I plan to go back to filing commentary meant to make you think (and occasionally annoy you) in the very near future. Please come back.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Holdover abortion measure from GOP’s era of domination still causes headaches

For a few hours on Wednesday, Illinois provided the anti-abortion activists with one of their fantasies come true – yet another law whose purpose was to make it more difficult to obtain a medical procedure that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled legal some 36 years ago.

The state’s Department of Professional Regulation ruled that doctors had to start complying with a 14-year-old-but-never-enforced law that requires all girls under 18 to inform their parents if they desire to end a pregnancy with an abortion.

THAT HAPPENED AT a morning hearing at the Thompson Center state government building. But the anti-abortion victory was squashed in the afternoon hours when a Cook County judge issued an injunction that prevents indefinitely the law from being enforced.

There will be court hearings at some point in the future, so I suppose the day could come when the injunction will be lifted and the law could then be enforced.

Of course, we could also get the day when a judge realizes the absurdity of notification and issues the ruling that strikes this law down. Then, the fight would go on to the appeals and U.S. Supreme Court – which entails more years of litigation.

I can’t help but gloat a bit at the thought that a judge used some sense in listening to the people who argue that requiring a blanket notification policy on all teen girls creates situations where their lives could be ruined.

I GUESS THAT the anti-abortion activists don’t really care about that aspect, so long as they can get their ideological attitude that a legal medical procedure should be next to impossible to obtain imposed on the public.

Part of what set me off enough to want to make my point again was listening to the rant from Joe Scheidler, the long-time head of the anti-abortion Pro-Life Action League. I’m not just upset because he told reporter-types that 44 other states have similar notification laws, while the true total is only 35.

It doesn’t even bother me that he says he will continue to spend the rest of his life opposing this measure. I have never doubted the sincerity of Scheidler’s beliefs on the issue of abortion, no matter how misguided he may be.

What bugged me was the idea that he expressed repeatedly, one that all he’s doing is trying to talk girls out of ending a pregnancy and that somehow, creating laws to protect those girls “creates a bubble” that interferes with his right to free speech.

I HAVE SEEN on too many occasions throughout the years what constitutes expression of free speech to these activists. It is pure intimidation.

Trying to scare someone is offensive enough, but picking on a teenage girl who often may not fully understand her legal rights in the tough situation in which she has found herself is just morally wrong.

It borders on being a bully.

Somehow, I can’t believe that the law is meant to protect the bullies of our society. It is supposed to protect us from those who would bully.

NOT THAT THE bullies aren’t allowed to have such ridiculous thoughts. But it doesn’t mean they can necessarily act upon them.

I’m not about to predict how this issue ultimately will be resolved in Illinois.

Like it has been reported on many occasions, this particular law is a holdover from the spring of 1995 – which was the period when the Illinois General Assembly had a Republican majority to go with six state constitutional officers.

The mighty Mike Madigan was reduced for a two-year period to being the minority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives. The GOP used their control of the political process to ram many long-desired conservative ideological causes down the throat of the Illinois electorate.

MOST OF THOSE measures were ultimately found to be unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in future years. But this measure has managed to linger on the books – even though the whole concept of creating a notification process that doesn’t cause more problems than it resolves has prevented it from ever being enforced.

I have said on other occasions that part of the reason I don’t feel all that sorry for Republican partisans and the way they have been shut out of the political process by Democrats for the past seven years-and-counting (more than three times as long as GOP domination lasted in Illinois) is because I remember how the GOP behaved in 1995 and 1996.

The fact that we have measures such as this hanging around ought to be considered a lesson for those who might want to start believing all the Republican rhetoric they’re going to hear during the upcoming year from GOP candidates who want us to automatically “Vote Republican!” in next year’s elections.

Part of the reason those Republicans who are hard-core ideologues are upset with Democrats has nothing to do with Rod Blagojevich. It’s all about the fact that harmful measures such as this have no chance of passing the Legislature now.


EDITOR’S NOTE: For a few hours, Illinois was paradise ( for the anti-abortion crowd. Then, reality set in, and the status quo remains.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

EXTRA: That’s Damaso Marte?!?

The Damaso Marte whom I recall pitching for the Chicago White Sox back in the mid-2000s (including the ballclub that won the World Series in 2005) may have had outstanding “stuff.”

But what I recall was a pitcher from the Dominican Republic who always seemed to be capable of blowing ballgames. He ultimately became the last pitcher one would want to see in a crucial situation.

THAT EXPLAINS WHY the only reason he got to pitch in that ’05 series was in that Game 3 that went deep into extra innings. There weren’t many pitchers left by that point.

So imagine my shock to watch the World Series Wednesday night and see Marte come in to pitch for the New York Yankees, face two batters, and strike both of them out!

And with three straight strikes to each. He particularly made Ryan Howard (the Philadelphia Phillies’ star slugger) look like a chump.

It’s too bad he couldn’t have been that overpowering when he pitched on the South Side. Perhaps White Sox fans would have had more to look upon this decade than one lone American League championship (winning the World Series is an added bonus).

ANYWAY, MARTE’S APPEARANCE set the stage for long-time star relief pitcher Mariano Rivera to come in and finish off the game, giving the Yankees a victory and their first World Series victory in nine long years.

For Chicago baseball fans, the key moment may very well have been commentator Ozzie Guillen's post-game promise to be back at the World Series in '10. Some Chicagoans are going to hold the White Sox manager to that promise.

And now, those of us who want a baseball fix will have to either wait it out until late February and Spring Training, or start paying attention to the professional leagues in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic – which began their seasons in mid-October and will play towards a championship in the Caribbean Series come early February.


When is a “parent” so messed up it should be ignored on issue of abortion?

It will be interesting to see how the medical “experts” who are with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation behave when they meet Wednesday to discuss the never-popular issue of abortion.

The law of Illinois in recent years has been that females under 18 who become pregnant and try to terminate it need to have proof that they told their parents of their desire. Political people who pushed for that law did so out of a belief that the parents in most cases would prevent an abortion from taking place.

BUT IN PART because this law was created under such blatant political partisanship, there has been a reluctance to enforce it.

The law itself has been on hold ever since it was enacted by the General Assembly and former Gov. Jim Edgar (who himself generally favored a woman’s right to choose when it came to abortion).

Various lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for northern Illinois (we’re talking about the judges at the Dirksen Building) kept this from being enforced, although a federal injunction on the issue was lifted during the summer.

In theory, the law has been on hold on the belief that there was no clear-cut procedure by which pregnant girls seeking an abortion could show they had notified their parents, or by which doctors would have to provide the notification.

IN SHORT, IT was confusing. So nothing was done. Until now.

The partisans who want to reduce the number of abortions that can be done by imposing such severe restrictions that it becomes next to impossible for many women to get one are sick of waiting.

They have been pushing for enforcement. Their demand, plus the lifting of the federal injunction, is what caused officials originally to say they would start doing such enforcement this autumn. At one point, it was thought that the law would take effect this week (the beginning of November).

For now, the law is on hold at least until the Wednesday meeting scheduled to take place at the professional regulation (the state agency that disciplines doctors in malpractice cases) offices at the Thompson Center state government building in Chicago.

WE’LL HAVE TO see if the state Professional Regulation Department’s medical disciplinary board decides to give in to the desires of the anti-abortion lobby (which is rather outspoken, although like most entities that try to intimidate through verbal means, ultimately full of hot air when one pays close attention to what they actually say), or keeps a hold on the process.

A significant part of the problem on this issue is that it likely is impossible to come up with a procedure by which parents would be “informed” of their daughters’ desire to terminate a pregnancy.

That’s actually the key here. We’re not talking about “consent,” which some states have and which anti-abortion activists in Illinois fantasize about having some day.

Ultimately, we’re talking about a medical procedure, which means that denying it to someone is probably a more immoral act than any anti-abortion activist believes the abortion itself is.

PLUS, THERE PROBABLY is no way to ensure that notification can be done without causing more significant problems.

The problem amounts to the cases of less-than-pristine family situations where a parent being informed of the girl’s pregnancy would exacerbate the problem. To be blunt, we’re talking about cases where incest could be involved, and with parents whose potential handling of the situation would be less-than-ideal.

I remember the days when this argument always would include putting a provision into the law by which girls could get out of telling their parents of their desire for an abortion, if they could convince a judge that such notification would cause a problem

That might sound like a sensible alternative, even though I realize it means putting young girls who might not be completely aware of their legal rights into the position of having to get themselves an attorney and deal with the courts.

OF COURSE, TO the anti-abortion types, that is a bad alternative because they could see girls actually using the option to get the abortion anyway. And their bottom line isn’t about protecting a parent’s rights or a family situation – it’s about making abortion next to impossible to obtain.

It is similar to the way they complain about the late-term abortions done in the final trimester in cases where the presence of a fetus threatens the mother’s health. The activists always want to claim that letting a medical doctor make a medical judgment in such cases is some sort of legal loophole.

Better to put their morals, rather than a medical opinion, in charge of the situation. Let’s hope the state Professional Regulation officials have more sense than that. And it would be nice to see the General Assembly use its current partisan majority to undo the mess that was caused by their past incarnation in the two years when the Legislature was a GOP-dominated affair.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ballot slots – a race to be last

It’s one of those so-called “rules” that political people tend to give too much credence to – the idea that ballot slots make a big difference when it comes to getting votes on Election Day.

There were those hundreds of people who showed up at Illinois State Board of Elections offices Oct. 26 at 8 a.m. in hopes of getting the top spot on the ballot for each government position. In coming weeks, the state will conduct a lottery to break the ties to figure out whose name gets to be listed first.

BUT THERE ARE those people who believe that the next-best thing to being first is to be last. The idea is they don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a list of candidates.

Hence, some people who want to run for electoral office made a point of waiting until as late as they could Monday afternoon before filing the nominating petitions that are necessary to get a ballot spot for the Feb. 2 primary elections.

Take the Republican primary for governor – a campaign that is going to become a bloodbath between the old guard of the party and the conservative ideologues who think they have a superior vision.

Jim Ryan, the former state attorney general who lost a gubernatorial bid back in 2002, filed his nominating petitions to run for governor Monday at 4:18 p.m. Yet that’s not going to be good enough for him to get the bottom spot – Chicago business executive Andy McKenna filed petitions at 4:25 p.m.

THERE WAS A similar race to be last in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate from Illinois. Corey Dabney of Aurora thought he’d be able to get that bottom slot by filing petitions at 3:51 p.m., only to get beaten out by Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson at 3:59 p.m.

Now I know some political people look down on the people who wait – I once had a political candidate tell me with a straight face that anyone who didn’t have their nominating petitions ready to file with the state at 8 a.m. on the first filing day was somehow unorganized and not worthy of a vote on Election Day.

There is some evidence that the candidates who held out for the final day of filing are not going to be among the front-runners, although some of them were candidates for the state Legislature and for judicial posts who are counting on the fact that there won’t be much attention paid to them – and that they might be able to slip their way into a political post.

Somehow, I don’t think that Sylvester “Junebug” Hendricks is going to achieve political office. He filed his nominating petitions Monday at 4:11 p.m. to run for the Republican nomination for an Illinois House of Representatives seat on Chicago’s South Side.

WHAT CATCHES MY eye about his petitions is that he gives his home “address” as a post office box. Officially, he’s homeless. But, of course, we’re talking about a homeless man who has his own website – at

He’s also not the typical Republican official in that his website indicates he has a strong interest in urban issues and even is a supporter of President Barack Obama (his website indicates that Hendricks is an “Obama-can”).

Somehow, I don’t think state Rep. Will Burns, D-Chicago, is quivering in fear at the thought of the Junebug campaign – even though the freshman senator is at the point in his career where he is most vulnerable to an electoral challenger.

So when it comes to candidates being political stragglers, who was the absolute last to file their petitions?

INSOFAR AS STATEWIDE campaigns are concerned, two of the candidates for lieutenant governor were holdouts to the final minutes of the day.

Thomas Castillo of Elmhurst probably thought that getting his petitions for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in at 4:49 p.m. was late enough. But he got beaten out, in a sense, by state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, who filed his lieutenant governor nominating papers at 4:51 p.m.

Three candidates for a Cook County judicial subcircuit (Tracey Stokes, John Chwarzynski and Radusa Ostojic) filed their petitions to run as Democrats at 4:58 and 4:59 p.m.

Yet the absolute “loser” who hopes that it makes him into a “winner” may very well be Richard Mayers of Chicago. He is a Green Party type and he plans to use that political entity for his electoral aspirations this campaign season.

NOT THAT WE know yet which office he plans to seek.

He filed nominating petitions seeking the Green Party slot for governor, a seat in Congress and for a slot as a party state central committeeman.

He gives an address on the Southwest Side, but the Congressional post he’s seeking is the North Shore seat being abandoned by Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. – who hopes to move up to the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Roland Burris.

Does this mean he’s willing to move if elected? Does this mean he’s throwing his dreams to the wind, hoping to see where they land and what he can get?

THERE’S ONLY ONE thing I can say for sure.

The fact that he filed his nominating petitions right at 5 p.m. (closing time) means he was the absolute “last” candidate for the 2010 primary – which most likely will be his only achievement for this election cycle.


Monday, November 2, 2009

3 + 9 = Electoral Relief

We have exactly three months from Monday until the primary Election Day in Illinois. Then, we have exactly 9 more months until the general election is complete, and we can be spared the nonsense that typically fills the “silly season.”

Until then, however, we’re going to be bombarded with rhetoric, stunts and general levels of inanity coming from various candidates wishing to run for electoral office. The day will come when we view those campaign commercials that put Blagojevich-style hair on all kinds of government officials as being the least offensive bit we’ll see this election season.

IT REALLY WORKS out this time that we are 365 days from the day that Republicans across Illinois dream will be the moment that voters rise up and dump Democrats everywhere – thereby re-establishing an order in which a GOP majority can go back to trying to ram a moralistic agenda down our throats the way they tried to back in 1995-96.

If it reads like I think reality will fall far short of that goal, you’d be correct.

I expect the end result of the 2010 election cycles to be a period in which Republicans gain a few offices, but in which Democrats still hold a majority. It won’t be the utter domination that we now have, but losing that won’t be the biggest loss in the world.

It just means we’ll be able to go back to blaming both political parties for the inability of things to get done within Illinois government, rather than thinking the problem is one entirely of a Democratic creation.

MUCH OF THE attention thus far is going on the U.S. Senate and Illinois governor races, where Roland Burris is leaving the former post and where Pat Quinn would like to have a chance to have a full four-year term in the latter office.

Both men have the potential to have Rod Blagojevich’s name linger over their campaigns, and you can bet that Republican candidates will go out of their way to ensure that the potential is fully achieved.

For this is the election cycle they want to think of as a referendum, of sorts, on the now-impeached governor who could theoretically be facing the end of a criminal trial in U.S. District Court some time next October – just in time to try to influence voters in the Nov. 2 general election.

The reality is that looking at the candidates, without a Blagojevich factor, the Democrats seeking both offices would be the clear frontrunners. With a Blagojevich factor, the GOP hopefuls could be competitive.

THERE ARE THOSE who are wondering if the more moderate segment of the Republican Party will prevail in the primary elections, giving a candidate who might be able to swipe some of the so-called independent voters who might otherwise be able to consider backing a Democratic hopeful.

Others (myself included) see that the conservative elements are going to see this as their potential chance to not have to pander to anyone, and to pick an ideologue who is willing to push a conservative agenda once elected, no matter whose feelings are offended.

I have heard some speculation about the GOP gubernatorial bid of Bill Brady, the state senator from Bloomington who has been positioning himself as a favorite of the ideologues, and that some party officials fear he could win the primary and cost them a chance to knock out Quinn/Dan Hynes.

Others wonder if the key figure to watch is Dan Proft for U.S. Senate. He has never held elective office, but he has worked in electoral politics as one of the hard-core campaign types who knows how to run and also has a sense of public relations that includes a quick wit that can come up with the quips that can take down more moderate foes.

IN THEORY, EITHER of these guys doing well is a sign that the GOP faithful are more interested in ideology than trying to reach out to people and win an election, whereas votes for people like Mark Kirk for Senate and Kirk Dillard for governor would indicate the opposite.

Personally, I’m going to be watching a different set of campaigns for evidence of how strong the conservative ideological desire triumphs over the practicalities of winning an election.

For me, I’m watching the Republican primary for Illinois comptroller – the state government post that controls the issuing of checks and payment of bills for Illinois.

It’s not that I think Jim Dodge, a long-time village trustee and official in southwest suburban Orland Park is some sort of hard-core ideologue. But he’s facing Judy Baar Topinka in the GOP primary.

UNDER TYPICAL CIRCUMSTANCES, Topinka would have the name recognition and experience (three terms as state treasurer, along with being a state senator from west suburban Riverside) to knock Dodge out of the box.

But the rhetoric I’m already hearing from the partisans is that the people who weren’t too enthused about voting for Topinka to be governor in 2006 aren’t too thrilled about having her in any state government post.

Their rhetoric contends that people like Topinka are the problem with government because they’re not conservative enough to stand up for ideological ideals (even though I remember that Topinka is a woman who once believed Phil Gramm should have been our nation’s president)

They’re going to spend the next year arguing that we need a complete change from the ideals of a Topinka (whom some people would argue were the ideals that once had the GOP as the dominant party within state government).

A DODGE VICTORY (or even a narrow Topinka win) means, in my book, that this will be an uncompromising election cycle.

If this does become an ideological war, we can be assured that Lisa Madigan – who as of Monday morning was the only major party candidate seeking the post of Illinois attorney general – won’t be the only Democrat taking an oath of office on Inauguration Day in Springfield in January 2011.