Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rod is ‘innocent,’ does anybody care?

It seems that Rosie O’Donnell is finally using her Chicago-based cable television talk show to delve into an issue of concern to those of us who live here.

But I really don’t see what she expects to gain from the show scheduled to air Wednesday – an interview with one-time Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich who, according to the news reports published in advance of the broadcast, says her husband is “innocent” of all crimes he is alleged to have committed.

SO WHEN FORMER Gov. Rod Blagojevich reports to prison in Colorado in a couple of weeks to begin that decade-long period of time he owes to the federal government, there will be yet another innocent man being held in prison.

I’m sure my sarcasm is dripping ever so heavily from this commentary.

Although it’s not because I’m convinced of the former governor’s guilt on all those charges for which a second jury convicted him of (remember the first that couldn’t make up its mind?). It’s just that I really don’t care anymore to hear a thing about the Blagojevich “saga.”

My question isn’t to Patti as to “How deluded can you be?” It is to Rosie to ask, “Do you really think this will bolster your programs ratings one bit?”

I REALIZE THAT the Rosie O’Donnell show that airs on the cable television channel created by Oprah Winfrey to give her the opportunity to be a television producer and entertainment mogul  -- rather than just host of her own popular program – is not doing as well in the ratings as the people who created it had hoped it would.

When you feel desperate, you do longer-shot things. Even going so far as to put on television yet again the woman who, when she dies many decades from now, will have in the lede of her obituary that she was the first lady who ate bugs on national television.

So anybody who still cares about what Patti Blagojevich (nee, Mell) thinks will get their chance to hear from her (the Associated Press says it will air Wednesday at 6 p.m. on the Oprah Winfrey Network – check your local lineup to figure out for yourself what channel number that translates to in your area).

Somehow, I don’t think there are many people who care much that this is her “first interview” since her husband received that 14-year prison sentence (which translates to just over 10 years of real time).

I THINK MANY people will find something else to do during that hour.

Besides, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Patti said she knows what is in her husband’s “heart.”

It isn’t even really much of a relevation that Patti Blagojevich initially thought it was a gag when the FBI showed up at the family home and said they had a warrant for the governor’s arrest.

Since we have known for years that the now-former governor’s reaction to that moment was the un-immortal line, “Is this a joke?”

THIS IS ONE “story” that I desperately want to wither away, particularly since I was never all that enthused about having it occur to begin with.

Because I’m always going to feel that this story was motivated way too heavily by the political partisanship that caused many people to detest Blagojevich, the persona.

And a good chunk of that was motivated by the fact that some people never got over the fact that he defeated Jim Ryan in the 2002 election cycle, and had the nerve to beat up on Judy Baar Topinka come 2006.
BLAGOJEVICH: Soon to be a number

This is a partisan fight that I am glad is over. I don’t want to think about it too much. Not even on March 15 – the date when Blagojevich must be in Colorado to report to prison, or else risk being classified as a “fugitive” whom “the feds”’ will hunt down.

THAT IMAGE MAY amuse certain people. But it does nothing for me, except bother me that I even bothered to write it just now.

And as for the people who are looking forward to March 15 because they want to see Milorod whisked away into a prison (albeit minimum-security), I’d say “Stop it.” Your enjoyment on this matter borders on perverse.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Casting the election cycle ’12 ballot

I’m not really someone who has undying faith in the political establishment. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the trend established when I cast my ballot on Monday for the upcoming primary elections.
THEIS: Should neighbor cost her election?

Yes, I used a couple of free hours I had during the afternoon to run some personal errands – including a visit to one of the early-voting centers so I could earn my right to complain about our government for the next four years.

SO OUT OF my continuing sense of giving you all a clue as to where I stand on assorted issues, I will confess to requesting a Democratic Party ballot. Those of you who were hoping I’d help you pick a Republican for president will have to figure that one out for yourself.

I couldn’t possibly bring myself to vote for any of them – even if a part of me thinks the concept of a “President Newt” would provide for high entertainment when it comes to political reporting.

Instead, I cast my vote for the 11 individuals on the ballot from my congressional district (the Illinois first) who want to go to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., to formally make Barack Obama the nominee for U.S. president.

In my district, those delegates include Kwame Raoul, the Hyde Park neighborhood state legislator who took over for Obama when he left the Springfield scene to be a U.S. senator for four years.

BUT THOSE WERE the predictable votes. No one else appeared on my ballot to run for president, other than Obama and his 11 delegates.

Which means the real votes “of interest” were the ones where there was a sense of choice. And I found myself, by-and-large, picking the incumbent out of a sense that none of the other choices had done or said anything to indicate that we should take them any more seriously than we do the current politico.
MUNOZ: A replacement?

That certainly goes for the five Democrats challenging Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., for his seat in Congress. If anything, somebody looking for a serious challenger to Rush ought to shift attention to the Republican ballot, where perhaps Blue Island Mayor Donald Peloquin has the background and ability to be a credible challenger.

But no one on the Democratic primary ballot deserves to be thought of in that class. So I picked Bobby for a term that, if the one-time Black Panther activist-turned-alderman gets it, would have him start his third decade of service on Capitol Hill.

THAT WAS MY same attitude when it came to picking someone for a seat on the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Mary Jane Theis is one of four Democrats and one Republican who wish a 10-year term on the state’s high court from the district that represents Cook County. If you’re a legal geek familiar with Cook County judges, some of the names might seem familiar.

But my guess is that to the average schmoe (of which I myself can be one), this is the campaign between Theis and Aurelia Pucinski.

She’s the daughter of one-time Congressman and Alderman Roman Pucinski who eventually worked her way up to being Cook County Court clerk before getting her current post on an Illinois appellate court for the Chicago area.

BUT SHE’S ALSO one of those political people who has swayed from the Democratic to the Republican parties – although political reality in Cook County has caused her to once again be a Democrat.

If it reads like I’m not sure what to make of people who swing around all over the place politically, that might be part of the reason I didn’t vote for her. But it is more because I haven’t heard anything to indicate why we should dump Theis – except some partisan rhetoric that is just too hard to take seriously.

Such as the claims that Theis should not have participated in the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that reinstated Rahm Emanuel to the ballot for the 2011 mayoral election. Both Emanuel and Theis live on the same block.

I’m not swayed.

ALTHOUGH IT DOES shock me to learn that there is one thing Pucinski says that could be construed as me agreeing with her.

For Pucinski has gone so far as to make an endorsement for the county court clerk position. She’s backing Ricardo Munoz for the office, using a forum by the Anti-Defamation League to say that incumbent Dorothy Brown has “made a mess of that office” – which Pucinski ran for 12 years.

Of course, Brown has accused Pucinski of being “vengeful” and claims she is the one who made a mess of the office that she has spent three terms trying to fix.
RUSH: No challengers, yet!

Yet I can’t help but think that, if after three terms, there is still a sense that the office is messed up, perhaps it comes down to a question of whether someone else should be given a chance.

THAT IS WHAT caused me to cast a vote for Munoz – who is giving up the City Council seat he has held for nearly two full decades to try to get himself a county-wide political post.

I’ll even be willing to forgive Munoz for that knuckleheaded vote of a few years ago when he went along with the plan to privatize the city’s parking meters – depriving city government of potential income for the future. It certainly didn't stop such prominent public officials as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle from formally endorsing his campaign.

Oh, and by the way, I also cast votes for Barack Obama for president and Anita Alvarez for state’s attorney.

But considering that both are running unopposed, what choice did I really have?


Monday, February 27, 2012

EXTRA: Go Cab, not Obama, for blues

I watched the “Red, White and Blues” program broadcast Monday by PBS affiliates across the nation (the one that gives us President Barack Obama singing a couple of lines from the song “Sweet Home, Chicago”), and couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed.
Buddy Guy (to the right) finally got to play the White House -- many decades after his work with the Big Names of the Blues such as Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters.

Yes, I saw that B.B. King and Buddy Guy were among the musicians included in the concert that billed itself as the “White House blues All-Stars.” And I’m not trying to claim that blues music is something that ought to be limited to black people.

BUT I COULDN’T help but notice the moment in mid-show where rockers Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck took the spotlight, and the fact that Jagger seemed to have a higher profile in the show than anyone else.

Perhaps the hard-core fans of the Rolling Stones (who in their early days covered a lot of blues standards) liked it. Otherwise, it seemed like a third-rate blues concert that could be heard in many nightclubs across the North Side of Chicago.
Would this Mick Jagger get near the White House?

So third-rate that I must admit to enjoying more the PBS program that followed – an “American Masters” documentary about the life of Cab Calloway, who had such a career even though too many people think he did nothing more than sing a song of jibberish near the end of the film “The Blues Brothers.”

So take it for what it’s worth. Somehow, the “real thing” when it comes to jazz and blues music sounds so much more enjoyable than the modern-day imitators. Then again, Calloway has a way of sounding inspiring – even when he’s in the most harmless of surroundings.


What purpose does Tamms really serve? Is Illinois better off without it?

It has been nearly 13 years since the one time I ventured to deep Southern Illinois to see the prison commonly labeled “supermax” – and the one that Gov. Pat Quinn says he’d like to close down as part of his plans to get a grasp on Illinois government’s struggling finances.

The Tamms Correctional Center (officially classified as a “Closed Maximum” unit because of the extreme isolation to which its inmates are subjected) has long been a controversial topic.
What will become of this state facility at 200 E. Supermax Dr., in Tamms, Ill. Photograph provided by U.S. Census Bureau

THERE ARE THOSE human rights activists who think the existence of such a facility in Illinois shows that we’re just as capable as any penny-ante dictator of subjecting our citizenry to abuse.

Others are more than willing to dismiss such claims because they want to believe that extreme measures are justified when it comes to dealing with crime, and punishment.

I’m not so sure where I come down on that particular issue, although a part of me reacted to learning last week of Quinn’s proposed cut by thinking that this particular suggestion could be a short-sighted one.

That facility is one of the newest in the Illinois Department of Corrections system (it opened in 1998). It seems like a waste to shutter it at a time when we really don’t have adequate space for all the inmates our state is expected to care for and supervise.

PERHAPS A RECLASSIFICATION to make it more like a typical prison might be a better use for the place, since it is the extreme security measures that cause it to be so expensive to run.

But then, I recall my own impression of the place – one that has lasted all these years since that date in March, 1999 when I ventured down there as a reporter-type person to see the execution by lethal injection of Andrew Kokoraleis.

It seems wasteful, financially, that they went to the cost of installing a special execution chamber designed specifically for lethal injection – then only used it for that one event. Since it was shortly after that event that then-Gov. George Ryan imposed the death penalty moratorium that last year morphed into an abolition of capital punishment in our state.

But that impression, which recurred to me when I learned of Quinn’s proposed cut, is one of an eerie silence.

YOU DON’T HEAR anything from inmates, who are confined to their cells all but one hour per day and are moved about the place in ways so that inmates never encounter other inmates.

Any inmate who shouts out obscenities is heard only by himself. The only people they see are their jailers. And even then, that is just for brief glimpses.

Which is unlike other prisons, where there is a certain vibe that goes along with a dull roar of noise from the inmates itself. It is a constant reminder that all it would take would be one little spark, and the inmates would outnumber the state officials.

Who’s really in charge?

EVEN THE GUARDS who work at Tamms (I recall) spoke in low, even tones that you had to struggle to hear. Think of the voice of actor Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, in those moments before he tells you that your liver would make a nice supper, if served with “fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Definitely no barking of orders that might give the place an authoritarian vibe.

It almost felt like officials regarded their work there as dealing with people who were mentally disturbed. Which is ironic, because the human rights activists claim it is the constant isolation that turns the Tamms inmates into people with potential for serious mental problems in their future.

Is Quinn, inadvertently, sparing Illinois the cost of future lawsuits from inmates who will claim the state drove them mad, by doing away with the concept of “C-max?” Or is he just overburdening the prisons to whom the roughly 100 Tamms inmates will be transferred to – because they all have incidents in their prison records that indicate they are disciplinary cases.

WHICH HAS ALWAYS been the rhetoric used by state officials to justify such harsh, borderline draconian, conditions.

People sentenced to a prison term don’t get sent to Tamms unless they show themselves to be among the worst, most uncontrollable, of the prison population. Likewise, they have said, inmates who show at Tamms that they can behave can get themselves transferred elsewhere.

Except there are moments when we hear the same lists of inmates who are assigned there, and it seems that the state attitude toward transfer is all too common to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board attitude toward parole – the answer is “No!” unless you can come up with an exceptional reason to justify it.

So when the prison closes in August (assuming the General Assembly goes along with it, and it is very likely that Southern Illinois legislators will hate the idea of closing a place that provides some of their residents with employment), we’ll have to see whether the governor gets credit for closing a potential embarrassment for Illinois, or blame for being too short-sighted!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Illinois GOP wants us to dump all over Lisa Madigan; what else is new?

MADIGAN: Doing her job!
Somebody needs to have a serious sit-down with Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady to explain to him the way in which lawyers and government work. Because it is clear from his rhetoric on Friday that he’s taking advantage of people who don’t have a clear concept – all so he can score some cheap political points.

Brady on Friday issued a statement that is meant to get the GOP faithful all worked up over the indictment this week of Cook County Board member Bill Beavers – who got hit on assorted tax charges.

DA FEDS. THE G. The I.R.S., to be specific. In short, the federal government is going after Beavers for the way in which he did not (allegedly) report his use of campaign contributions and county expense accounts for personal purposes.

In his statement, Brady wants to know why Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan didn’t catch Beavers first.

He says she has “not undertaken any significant public corruption investigations in her nine years in office,” and wants us to think of the highly-qualified daughter of the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives as some sort of incompetent boob.

“It is mind-boggling that in a state where the last two governors stand convicted of corruption, that ranks as the third-most corrupt state in the country, and is home to Chicago, ranked as the most corrupt city in the country that our chief law enforcement officer has yet to undertake any significant public corruption investigations in her nearly 10 years in office,” Brady said.


Despite all the nonsensical uses of forms of the word “corrupt” in that last part of his statement, there is one thing that Brady states that is just flat-out wrong.

The Illinois attorney general is NOT the “chief law enforcement officer” in this state.

Her office does contain some functions that cause its collections of legal minds to get involved in criminal law on occasion. But the attorneys on the state payroll mostly deal in matters of civil law.

IF ANYTHING, LISA Madigan is the attorney for Illinois state government. When the state gets sued, she is the one who represents it. When the state’s agencies with some enforcement powers decide to take someone to court, it is Madigan’s staff of attorneys who handle the legal brawl.

It is probably most accurate to think of the Illinois attorney general’s office as the law firm used by state government – and Lisa Madigan as its administrator.

People who want to think that she’s packing a badge in her purse and is prepared to whip it out and start arresting people really are missing the point of what her authority is.

So the idea that Madigan would be finding a reason to investigate Beavers, or any of the other political hacks who have wound up finding themselves astray with the law, isn’t quite right.

THERE’S ALSO THE fact that the acts that Beavers (and, in fact, many of those who have been caught up in various government corruption probes) have done things that are explicit violations of federal law. That is particularly true of Beavers – whose actions to bolster his own pension and use his county expense account are completely legal, in and of themselves.

It is the fact that Beavers is alleged to have not acknowledged his use of the money as additional personal income, and may have filed his income tax returns in a way to try to cover up this use, that is the crime the feds say Beavers committed.

If Madigan’s aides had come across some sort of evidence that Beavers had done this, their proper course of action would have been to turn it over to the I.R.S. so their investigators could handle the matter.

It wouldn’t have been to take a show-boating stance on the matter to try to gain attention for herself. That would have been inappropriate – and the ideologues who Brady is trying to reach out to are usually the first to get upset about governments stepping on each other’s jurisdictions – but only if it is a Republican-leaning government that is being told what to do by someone else.

WHICH IS TO say that Brady’s rhetoric is nothing more than nonsense. He wants people who might not spend every waking hour studying the finer nuances of differing levels of government to think that something is being mishandled – when, in reality, nothing is.

I realize that Brady is a political operative whose “job” is to get people all worked up to the point where they would actually consider voting for Republican candidates for elective office.

But just because Pat feels the need to spew a line or two of trash-talk to try to gain himself some attention in the feeding frenzy that will take place with regards to the Bill Beavers story does NOT mean we, the people of Illinois, ought to feel the least bit obligated to take his talk the least bit seriously!


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Capitol Fax newsletter on Friday asked people to express their view on whether Pat Brady’s attack on Lisa Madigan was “fair.” The Illinois GOP used their Facebook site to direct people to the newsletter so that they could say it was.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Should we keep the microphone away from the president these days?

I remember from my stint in Springfield, Ill., the “antics” of now-former state Rep. David Phelps of rural Eldorado.
OBAMA: The singing politico?

He and his brothers were part of a singing group when he wasn't doing the governmental equivalent of making sausages, and the fact that Phelps didn’t have such a bad voice invariably caused him to be called upon to sing something just about any time it could be justified.

IT ACTUALLY BECAME a semi-tradition for the Illinois House of Representatives to have Phelps sing “Happy Birthday” to them on their members’ birthday anniversaries.

It got to the point where I can’t really remember much of what Phelps accomplished as a legislator (he later served a few terms in Congress from Southern Illinois). His voice overwhelmed.

While Barack Obama has a long way to go before he reaches that point, I’m starting to wonder if that’s the direction he’s headed in.

For it seems that Obama is willing to warble a few lyrics whenever a microphone is put near his mouth.

THERE WAS THAT moment last month at Harlem’s Apollo Theater where he did his best Al Green impersonation in giving us the opening lines of “Let’s Stay Together.”

Now this week, he felt compelled by Mick Jagger (of all people) to handle a couple of lyrics from that overly-generic blues tune “Sweet Home, Chicago.”

I call it overly-generic because it has practically become Tune Number One on the “set list from Hell,” the nickname given by many blues musicians of about a dozen songs that it seems like all the tourists visiting blues clubs want to hear so they can say they had a truly seedy experience.

Although on a side note, Obama with Jagger reminds me of the time that then-Gov. George Ryan was at Chicago’s Double Door club and got to meet Stones’ guitar player Keith Richards. Does that make Illinois politicos by nature Rolling Stones fans?

THIS MAY BE the evidence that hanging around too closely with the Rolling Stones leads to “no good.” They’ve got Obama feeling the need to throw his musical “chops” behind such a tawdry song.

If you really want to hear “Sweet Home, Chicago” done properly, you need to dig up the record of the Magic Sam Blues Band – which many decades ago was a big deal on the West Side.

Unfortunately, they’re long gone (deceased). So a recording (which I actually own both on vinyl LP and on compact disc) is what we have to settle for.

Listening to other bands try to cover the song is just such an inferior experience. They turn the song into a blues cliché. Invariably, someone will let their guitar solo skills go overboard.

AND NOW, OBAMA is a part of the over-commercialization of a song about a truly wonderful experience, returning to “Sweet Home, Chicago.” (And no, that line is NOT meant to be sung).

Although I am pleased to know that all those blues musicians were present at the White House, giving a concert in the East Room that the nation will get to watch on Monday on their local PBS affiliates.

For those who would argue against the blues being performed in such an “elegant” setting, I’d argue that it is merely equal time for when assorted country & western singers were at the White House for a similar concert held last year.

It may well be one of the perks of being president that you can get “big name” and “significant” talent to come to your official residence and play music for you.

BUT IT DOESN’T mean you should feel compelled to join in the show – even if Mick Jagger himself (whom I don’t really consider a blues singer, even if the Rolling Stones’ earliest records consisted of covers of old blues tunes) was the one who stuck the microphone in the president’s face.

There is just one good thing, from Obama’s perspective.

Suppose the group had been performing the old blues standard, “I Just Wanna Make Love to You?” Just imagine how harshly the ideologues would be ranting these days if Obama had sung along to that song?


Thursday, February 23, 2012

EXTRA: Will Beavers, the “hog,” take on feds the way he takes on Toni?

Bill Beavers, the self-described “hog with the big nuts,” is going to have to brawl with the federal government in coming months, and it will be interesting to see if he is as feisty with “da G” the way he can be with county board President Toni Preckwinkle.
BEAVERS: Speak up to the feds?

For Beavers is the Cook County Board member who represents the far southeastern corner of Chicago and who uses his position to question just about anything that goes on in government that doesn’t meet his standards.

NOT THAT HE has the standards of the “goo-goos.”  Beavers, who was once with the Chicago Police Department and also was alderman of the seventh ward for many years, is an old-school political type who doesn’t have much time for a lot of the “good government” nonsense – as he sees it.

Back when former county board President Todd Stroger was still around, Beavers was a solid backer of his. When Preckwinkle came in and used her authority to eliminate the county sales tax increase that Stroger used to balance the budget, Beavers was her biggest critic.

To this day, Beavers can be counted on to engage in a rant about how short-sighted the county government officials were to do away with that increase – any time anything comes before the county board that requires extra money.

Will Beavers try to adopt the same attitude in dealing with the federal investigators who on Thursday got a grand jury to indict him on tax-related charges? It’s very likely.

WILL BILL BEAVERS go into the Chicago history books as someone who got busted for tax evasion, similar to Al Capone? It’s very possible.

Because what strikes me about the charges now pending against Beavers is that his actions, in and of themselves, are not illegal. To listen to the Internal Revenue Service, he wouldn’t be in any legal trouble if only he had filled out his tax returns differently.

By comparison, I suspect many people will be more offended by the ways in which Beavers spent money, and will be less concerned about the way his tax return was filled out.

The bottom line is that Beavers is charged with obstructing the IRS and three charges of filing false income-tax returns.

WHAT HE ACTUALLY did was used money donated to his campaign committees (which are supposed to pay for his Election Day efforts) and his county commissioner expense accounts for personal purposes.

No one is being specific, but it is being said that some of the money wound up being gambled away by Beavers – which in and of itself is not a crime.

Another part was used to pay into funds that enabled Beavers to get a larger pension for his time with the Police Department AND with the City Council – a $68,763.07 payment by Beavers nearly tripled his pension to just over $6,500 per month.

It’s no wonder he can afford those self-described “finely-tailored” suits.

HIS ACTIONS ARE completely legal. I recall once having a conversation with then-Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan about this very issue, and how he was planning to bolster his eventual pension by buying credit for more time worked -- making up for the fact that in his early working years, he short-changed his pension contributions so he could have more money for his family’s expenses.

BUT, when you use these kinds of funds for personal purposes, you’re supposed to consider them additions to your income. That means you’re supposed to acknowledge them on your tax return, and be prepared to write out a check to cover the additional tax burden you face from such income.

Federal prosecutors say Beavers did no such thing. When the IRS began investigating, they say Beavers had his campaign committees create records to try to cover up the lack of such payments.

Somehow, I think people are going to be more offended at the idea of a person who already was entitled to a $2,890-a-month pension thinking he should be able to get more.

YET IT’S LEGAL, and surely the kind of activity that Beavers will support.

I have no doubt he’s going to claim in coming months that he is the one being prosecuted. I just want to see for myself if he will get as “lippy” with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as he does these days with Preckwinkle – and anyone else who dares to challenge his way of thinking.


A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Poll says 54 to 32. What else is new?

Those numbers represent a new poll – one that shows Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., solidly leading his Democratic primary challenger – former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, whose bid for a political comeback isn’t looking too good these days.
JACKSON: Rigged in his favor

This poll was done by a group called We Ask America, which in its own analysis makes extensive mention of all the “controversies” that are supposed to be capable of  taking down Jackson come March 20. But then in giving us the figures, it says that voters in the far South Side and surrounding suburbs district “aren’t buying into conventional wisdom.”

AS THOUGH IF they were likely to vote the way they’re supposed to, Jackson would lose. It sounds a bit biased to me, almost as though the poll-taker wants to believe that this is another “Dewey Defeats Truman” in the making.

Personally, the results don’t surprise me in the least. They strike me as being completely in line with the people who live in Illinois’ Second Congressional district in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Which is to say that this is a district with a significant African-American population – even though its southern edge is in Kankakee County. It’s not really a fair game. This district is rigged in Jackson’s favor.

I have no doubt that Halvorson, the former state legislator who served one term in Congress before losing in 2010 because those Will County voters thought her “too liberal,” is working her hardest to draw out the vote for herself. I’ll even give her credit for not blatantly playing racial politics in the model of a 1980s-style “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak.

BUT IT WILL be a factor, and I don’t just mean black people voting for Jackson because he’s black.
HALVORSON: Could be doing worse

That We Ask America poll shows that only 21 percent of African-American people want Halvorson (compared to 65 percent who want Jackson). Among white people, 62 percent want Halvorson, compared to 29 percent for Jackson.

Considering how many more black people there are in this particular congressional district, that’s a huge advantage. When one also notes the Latino and Asian votes also swing in Jackson’s favor, one only wonders how badly Halvorson would be doing in the polls if she weren’t taking so many white votes.

What else is notable about life these days from the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan?

WHO REMEMBERS APARTHEID?: I felt a blast from the past, so to speak, when I heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson refer to the reform package being contemplated by the Chicago Public Schools as little more than “educational apartheid.”

He, and many hundreds of activists who protested the public schools Wednesday morning, said they fear the plan to close some schools and redo others will only benefit select students – with the masses being left for refuse.

“It’s a type of segregation when, within the same school system, you have an upper tier and a lower tier. It is apartheid,” Jackson said, with the reference to the one-time South African setup that relegated the nation’s black majority to minority status within their own nation.

He has a point, although I’d argue it already has taken place with the way many people with children of school age go out of their way to avoid certain school districts that contain too many “undesirable” elements. The question I’d have is to wonder how many of the Chicago Public School children even know what “apartheid” was.

WANT TO WIN AN ELECTION? CALL A CHICAGO MAYOR: President Barack Obama made the announcement about his re-election committee, formally making 30 individuals co-chairmen of the efforts.

Included among those, the Chicago Tribune reported, were the Chicago-tied (and former White House chief of staffed) Rahm Emanuel and William Daley.

Which means Obama expects the current Chicago mayor, and brother of the former Chicago mayor, to use all their skills and powers to ensure that he does not become unemployed next January.

Particularly with the involvement of Daley, whose father is alleged by the ideologues to have “stolen” the 1960 elections for John F. Kennedy, I’m just wondering how long until we get similar conspiracy theories spewed for Obama. Which may be the best evidence of how frayed the Republican presidential efforts will be. The opposition will look for excuses, rather than victory.

A NEW LOOK FOR A BALLPLAYER: It doesn’t surprise me at all to see the modern-day ballplayer bearing tattoos. But Chicago Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd now has one all over his right arm (the one he throws with) that definitely stands out.

For what he did was had a portion of the “Man in the Arena” speech given by Theodore Roosevelt (as in former U.S. president) back in 1910 inked up and down his arm.

You can check out ESPN if you really care to read what Byrd likely will read every time he gives his arm a look. But political statements from Teddy Roosevelt usually aren’t what one expects from a professional athlete at any level.

Most ballplayers I have encountered would hear the name “Teddy” and think “Ballgame,’ which was the nickname that one-time Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams liked to use to refer to himself.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I’m surprised Quinn didn’t get an “F.” That would fit other ideological talk

QUINN: Soon to be Illinois' least-popular pol
Gov. Pat Quinn will set himself up on Wednesday for months of ridicule and abuse – and we’re bound to get many reports telling us how weak and ineffectual our governor truly is.

The “set-up” is the fact that Quinn will be at the Statehouse in Springpatch on Wednesday to formally present his budget proposal for the state government fiscal year that begins July 1.

WE’RE ALREADY HEARING the rhetoric that the governor’s proposal is nonsense and unrealistic and some sort of fantasy – even though nobody officially has heard it yet (unofficially, legislative leaders and their financial aides have been briefed during the past couple of days).

Which is why the rhetoric we’re getting now is as cheap as the talk that Quinn will spew when he gives his budget address during the noon hour.

Even though the statistic that gets tossed out each year is as accurate this year as it has been in the past – the budget that finally gets approved by the General Assembly at the end of May will be 98 percent the same as what Quinn proposes Wednesday.

It is that remaining 2 percent that we, the people of Illinois, will have to listen to the ideologues rant and rage about. And they'll have us believe the "2 percent" are the entirety of the issue.

IN FACT, I couldn’t help but notice the statement given earlier this week by Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley when he gave the governor a letter grade (as high as a “C+”) for his work toward job creation.

Quinn quickly quipped that there are some people out there (particularly those connected to the automobile industry) who would give him an “A.” Yet I’m honestly surprised that Whitley (who served for two years as Illinois revenue director under Gov. Jim Edgar) didn’t just give the governor a failing grade.

That kind of talk would have been completely in character with the ideological trash talk that we often get from people who want to advance their own interests at Illinois’ expense.

Which is to say that I don’t buy into the talk that rural-based states have more sound economies than urban-influenced Illinois – or that our state’s economic situation would be any significantly different IF ONLY we hadn’t elected Democrats to be governor in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 election cycles.

TOO MUCH OF the political criticism comes across as ideological nonsense, and that is what I am bracing myself for in coming weeks as we hear people trash Quinn for his attempt to move the state government in a financially-sound direction.

I’ll write it again. It took the state years to get into this position. It will take our government officials years to get out of it, and I really believe Quinn’s financial legacy will be nothing more than being the guy who stabilized government finances to the point where some future governor will get the chance to do great things for the people of Illinois.

Sorry, Pat. You just don’t have the funds to do anything costly. Which is why I am encouraged to hear that Quinn is speculating about such tough decisions as closing more state facilities, including youth corrections facilities.

Although the problem there lies with the fact that those facilities weren’t built as some sort of foolish financial frill. The services they provide are needed – no matter how much the ideologues want to complain that there is “always” waste in government.

WE’LL FIND OUT Wednesday what kind of closures will be considered, along with possible cuts in Medicaid that Quinn also has hinted at. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Quinn’s approval ratings in the polls are so low. Perhaps if he had high ratings, it would mean he wasn’t doing his job.

So Quinn will speak his “unpopular” thoughts. Then, we’ll get to hear all the political people complain.

Personally, I’m waiting to hear who comes up with the complaint that Manfred Mann’s 1968 hit song, “The Mighty Quinn” ought to be banned in Illinois as being dishonest.

That will be when we will have reached the low point.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

South suburbs have changed, and people should change their perception w/ it

It has been an intriguing six-day period for the suburban area south of Chicago.
QUINN: Is his talk cheap?

Gov. Pat Quinn has actually deemed the area that is an extension of Chicago’s great Sout’ Side worthy of his attention three times in the past few days.

ONCE WAS TO see that the old Dixie Square shopping center in Harvey was really being torn town, a second time in Hazel Crest to use a local school to announce a series of school-related projects the state would pay for, and a third time on Monday to be present for the unveiling of the new Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail signs that will be erected on Tuesday along the Cook County portion of I-57.

Quinn even seems to have some set rhetoric that he uses whenever he is in the municipalities that developed south of  95th Street (or 119th Street, or 138th Street, whichever one you consider to be the southern “end” of Chicago) to make it sound like he cares about the area.

“If you put the south suburbs together, you would have one of the largest cities in America,” Quinn has said – which is sort of true. Depending on how one defines “south suburb” (as opposed to southwest suburb, west suburb, northwest or north suburb), the area can have about 500,000 people – which is almost the size of Milwaukee).

But, of course, nobody puts all those municipalities of 10,000 to 35,000 people each into one cohesive unit. Plus, the same fact could easily be said of the west suburbs or north suburbs.

THEY WOULD MAKE significant cities if they were considered as semi-entities, instead of individual communities -- certainly larger than anything found in "downstate" Illinois.

So I’m not convinced that the sudden surge of attention from Quinn and the state is going to change much of anything about the region – which I will admit I have a special interest in because I have lived there.

Much of my own life has been spent moving back and forth between city and suburb (with the occasional move outside the Chicago area to a politically-motivated community such as Springfield, Ill., or Washington, D.C.).

What makes the south suburbs stand out when it comes to suburbia is the fact that they truly are an off-shoot of Chicago’s South Side – which in recent decades developed neighborhoods that are almost entirely African-American.

SO DURING THE past decade when many of those African-American city residents became tired of city life and decided to move elsewhere, it may be true that some decided to go back “down South” (ie., Atlanta).

But many of those roughly 180,000 African-Americans who left Chicago in the past decade (according to the Census Bureau population count completed last year) are now living in those south suburbs.

Many communities in the south suburbs have developed majority African-American populations. The south suburbs is now just as important a region for black political empowerment as any Chicago South Side or West Side neighborhood.

Which is what causes many people to be scared off of taking the area seriously when it comes to economic development.

IT LEADS TO the very real conditions that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., likes to talk about when he gives speeches. Invariably, he will talk about how the Bishop Ford Freeway is a messy traffic jam headed northbound during the morning rush hour, but that the southbound lanes are ever so empty.

Everybody feels the need to leave the southern area (and for that matter, the far South Side of Chicago proper) in order to gain any kind of significant employment.

Because of my own ties to the area, it is why I personally am rooting for people like Jackson whenever they talk about initiatives that might actually draw positive attention to the area (such as his plans to turn the area around 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue into a national park honoring the old legacy of the Pullman railroad cars that once were built there).

Anybody who ever has been to that area would realize it still has such a historic feel to it that it could be an attraction – just as the few blocks surrounding what once was Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Ill., has become.

UNLESS PEOPLE LET their racial hang-ups get the best of them. That could be the biggest impediment to anything serious being done in the way of development for the area.
Will they become a tribute, or a barrier?

Which is why I am curious to see how the renaming of I-57 from 99th Street down to Sauk Trail near suburban Matteson plays out in the public eye. Lots of people on Monday used ceremonies in suburban Markham to make grandiose statements. But will them mean them?

Or will there be a predominance of people who will take the fact that the one-time Calumet Expressway is now the Bishop Ford Freeway (named for long-time Church of God in Christ presiding bishop L.H. Ford) and that I-57 is now named for the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II fame and interpret that to mean that these two African-American tributes now establish eastern and western boundaries for black suburbia that they go out of their way to ignore?

If that were to happen, that would be the blow most likely to harm us as a society.