Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Were the Mayans on to something?

I’m starting to wonder if the speculation that the world as we know it is scheduled to come to an end just before year’s end has something to it.

Will Barack Obama appear "presidential" enough in handling hurricane relief? Or will we have President-elect Mitt Romney come next week? Photograph provided by White House

It’s this presidential campaign cycle – which had its two significant nominating conventions impacted by Hurricane Isaac (the Republicans had to cut their convention short by a day, while the grand finale of the Democratic convention had to be moved indoors).

NOW, WE HAVE the formerly-Hurricane Sandy taking a serious bite out of the last week of the election cycle.

For all practical purposes, the campaigning is over. Because both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have enough sense to realize how crass they would appear to be, if they were to try to continue to campaign as though nothing out-of-the ordinary were going on.

Early voting centers across the East Coast also are likely to be converted into relief centers. Which could hurt the Obama campaign that seemed to be counting on getting as many people to vote as soon as possible so that by Tuesday, he’d have such a huge lead before Election Day that it would take a herculean effort by Romney to overcome.

And considering how many of the ideologues are more interested in dumping Obama than really doing anything to help Romney, it would make it seem highly unlikely to occur.

IN FACT, IT really puts Mitt Romney in a position where he has to sit back and watch.

For Barack Obama will get to remind us in coming days that he IS the president. He ultimately is going to be the face of the relief efforts.

Which GOP ideologues are desperately hoping will mean that Obama will do something stupid or foolish; thereby giving their party standard-bearer a chance to gain some “undecided” votes.

But that is not a given. Let’s all recall the ’08 election cycle, particularly that moment in September when that year’s GOP nominee, John McCain, suspended his campaign because he said his presence was needed in Washington to put together a $700 billion bailout package for the financial industry.

I SEEM TO recall that McCain came across as rash and giving of knee-jerk reactions that had not been thought out, while Obama presented a calm, cool and rational image. Which may well be why Romney will try to do as little as possible to screw things up for himself!

Of course, if Obama comes across as “presidential” (that vague concept we really can’t define, but we know when we see) in the next few days with his oversight of federal relief efforts, he could wind up clinching the presidential post for the next four years.

Which I’m sure the ideologues would see as the ultimate evidence that the world is ending. Although I suspect that the bulk of us are going to be appalled no matter who wins this election cycle.

Personally, I just can’t get over the fact that the weather has become a major player in the way this election cycle has carried out.

MAYBE MOTHER NATURE is making her thoughts known about not being pleased with the way the candidates are conducting themselves.
Sandy on Saturday. Image provided by NOAA

Some severe weather gusts here and there (including the storm that threatens to impact the bulk of the United States east of the Mississippi River) cause the candidates to alter their tactics for gaining supporters.

It’s too bad she doesn’t like us as much as she does real-tasting butter. Then perhaps she would have arranged for a permanent gag on political people so that they couldn’t say so many stupid things.

Or maybe those Mayans foresaw all these storms coming at a campaign cycle and realized a significance that we have yet to appreciate!


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is murder total an over-rated stat?

With just over two months to go in the year, the total number of homicides in Chicago during 2012 has already reached the same level as all of 2011.

I’m sure there will be those who will be shocked and appalled to learn of a rising level of the number of people who die due to the deliberate actions of another human being (which is the definition of homicide – murder is the legal term for those homicides that can’t be justified).

YET I HAVE to confess to being unimpressed by this increase. Perhaps it’s because I remember the times of the late 1980s back when I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago and became immersed in just about every death that took place in the city.

Back in those days, the total number of homicides in Chicago broke down to an average of two or three per day. The yearly total could easily climb to just over 1,000.

So when I learned that Chicago tied last year’s mark by having its 435th homicide this past weekend (according to the Chicago Tribune), it just sounded so petty by comparison.

I realize that every life has a story and that there is somebody out there for each of those 435 dead people. But in the larger picture, it just seems so little compared to the past.

I CAN’T GET all aroused in anger at the thought that we “tied” 2011 (and in fact by now have probably surpassed it). We’ve made progress compared to our recent past – things are calmer than they used to be.

Although to be honest, those old days that I (and a crew of several other aspiring young reporter-types whom I now hear from mostly through the occasional  Facebook “friend” update) covered also were not quite as straight-forward as they would sound by the numbers.

More than 1,000 deaths by human action per year. Two to three murders per days.

Actually, there were some neighborhoods in Chicago that rarely saw violence – which means there were others that saw the brunt of urban warfare.

INVARIABLY, THERE WOULD come a weekend or two during the summer when things would get out-of-hand and we might get 15 to 20 people being killed in a two-day period.

Which boosts up the daily average considerably – making it possible to have other days when nobody was killed.

Part of the reason for the reduction is the elimination of the old public housing “high-rises” that congregated far too many people with little in life into too far small a space. It created an environment that no human being should ever have had to endure.

But the sad thing is that one aspect of urban violence hasn’t changed. It is still something largely isolated to certain neighborhoods of the inner-city persuasion.

THERE ARE SOME people in Chicago who live in communities where it is significant if there is a purse snatching. A storefront stickup would be a cataclysmic event!

Murder would be unheard of – unless it somehow spread over a neighborhood boundary and could be blamed on some other community.

Too many of us are accepting of that – as though we think there are certain people in Chicago who don’t really deserve to be protected from crime and violence. Which, of course, is nonsense!

And as much as some of us like to adopt an attitude that the suburbs are somehow safe and pristine, there are some communities that see crime levels as high as any city neighborhood.

WHAT ULTIMATELY BOTHERS me about the idea of our “tying” last year’s homicide rate is that some people are going to use this idea of increased violence for reactionary policies.

Or, worse yet, they’re going to see that it didn’t directly impact “their” neighborhood, and figure it means that it really doesn’t matter to them.

It’s something we all ought to be concerned about!


Monday, October 29, 2012

EXTRA: The long wait begins

This is one American League baseball fan who isn’t all that appalled that the Detroit Tigers managed to get so thoroughly whipped in the World Series this year – making it the third straight season that the National League champion  gets the ultimate bragging rights.


AFTER ALL, THE current setup for playoffs baseball to qualify for the World Series meant that the American League allowed its seventh best ballclub to become its league champion for 2012.

I’m sure the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles all would have done better against the Giants than a four-game sweep. Heck, I’m sure the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels also would have managed to win a series game – even though they didn’t qualify for the playoffs. As would have the 85-win Chicago White Sox!

But now the series is over, and baseball fans will either have to start following the activity of the Dominican, Puerto Rican or Venezuelan leagues, or the Pacific League in Mexico, or else wait until late February for the arrival of spring training.

It also didn’t surprise me to learn that the Facebook Talk Meter says that the World Series this year is being out-played by all the interest in Hurricane Sandy (which threatens to make Hurricane Katrina of ’05 look like a baby’s bath by comparison).

SANDY REGISTERED A 7.12 on the Talk Meter, while the World Series was at 6.71.

And for what it’s worth, President Barack Obama (3.86) and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney (3.5) are lagging significantly behind the series. They’re probably wishing the World Series had gone the full seven games so that they could make an appearance at a ballgame to get some public attention.

Sandy, as she appeared on Saturday. Image provided by NOAA

Now, they’re probably going to have to give the appearance of helping out the hurricane relief – if they want to be noticed in this final week prior to Election Day.

So at least in some sense, people have their priorities straight.


Who’re dose guys?

I’m writing this particular commentary for my brother, Chris, who recently asked me, “Is there anybody else running” for president.
STEIN: A suburban Chicago native

He’s not impressed with the incumbent, but also doesn’t think that Mitt Romney is worthy of a vote.

MY BROTHER PLANS to cast his ballot on Election Day, and I don’t have a clue as to who he will go for when it comes to making his mark for U.S. president.

Would he go for a third party candidate just to express his contempt for the incumbent? Which might well be a popular move this election cycle – for which we have one more week to cast our votes early, or else wait for Nov. 6 proper to do so.

Here in Illinois, Barack Obama warrants the top ballot spot, with Mitt Romney right behind him. Which then brings up the candidacy of Gary Johnson of Santa Fe, N.M., who is the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee – with Newport Beach, Calif., resident James P. Gray as his running mate.

There’s also Jill Stein of the Green Party, who although she now lives in that very historic burg of Lexington, Mass., was born in Chicago and raised in suburban Highland Park.


A look at the records of the Illinois State Board of Elections shows that candidates of the Socialist USA Party, the Constitution Party and the Together Enhancing America Party, along with several political independents, tried to get on the Illinois general election ballot – only to get knocked off by one means or another.

Some voters in this country may get the chance to cast their gag vote for socialist Stewart Alexander, but we in Illinois won’t.
JOHNSON: President Veto?

Personally, I think the biggest “loss” when it comes to candidates who couldn’t remain on the ballot were a pair of Illinois residents who tried to run for president and V-P.

WE COULD HAVE had the chance to vote for favorite son candidates in the form of Lex Green of Bloomington and Edward Rutledge of suburban Lemont, if only they had not dropped out voluntarily back in July.

I’m not saying that Green or Rutledge were at all qualified to hold higher office. I suspect they just have too much free time on their hands, which makes me wonder about that old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

But it’s always a kick to be able to cast a ballot for somebody who actually knows your own home turf firsthand, rather than having read about it in a briefing report written by some campaign aide who probably cribbed two-thirds of it from Encyclopaedia Britannica.

So what do we in Illinois get to pick from, should we absolutely decide that neither Obama nor Romney is worthy of our little green checkmark on those touch-screen ballots we’re all now supposed to use nowadays (but which many people still seem uncomfortable – if the cautious and clumsy activity I witnessed at an early voting center when I cast my ballot is any evidence)?

JOHNSON OF THE Libertarians is a one-time New Mexico governor who was among the many people who gave thought to trying to get the Republican nomination for president in this year’s cycle.

But when he couldn’t elevate himself ahead of a field that included such people as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, he converted to libertarianism.

The one-time “Gov. Veto” (he used his power 200 times during his first six months as governor) would like to go to work in the District of Columbia.

Which is more than Stein could offer, although she has run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2010 and has the endorsements of Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader in her presidential bid this year.

ALTHOUGH BY CAREER, she’s a doctor (and a Harvard Medical School graduate) with a serious interest in the way government takes actions meant to protect the health of the public.
GIERACH: They wouldn't let him in either

Which may sound noble. But about the only attention she has received this campaign cycle is when she got arrested Oct. 16 when she tried to crash the town hall-type debate between Obama and Romney held at Hofstra University.

Perhaps she should have tried the same tactic as would-be Illinois gubernatorial candidate James Gierach in 1994. He brought his own chair to Democratic primary debates and tried to set it up on stage with the so-called “official” candidates. He wasn’t invited to participate in debates either.

Which seems to be what our election cycles have devolved to these days – a club to which only certain people can work their way onstage for us to choose from.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is there a definitive source of criminal evidence that cannot be disputed?

The criminal case that just won't die

Learning about Michael Marino, who likely died some 36 years ago and had his killer put to death back in 1994, resurrected an old question in my mind.

How reliable are all these claims of scientific evidence that we hear being used in courtrooms? Do we ever truly know what happened in instances where an improper act occurred that warranted criminal charges?

MARINO IS ONE of the 33 people whom John Gacy was said to have strangled. His body allegedly was among the ones that were found by police investigators in the crawl space of Gacy’s home.

His body was identified at the time (the late 1970s) through that staple of criminal evidence – the dental records. The teeth in the skull recovered matched up to the records of the teeth of Marino, who was 14 in 1976 when he disappeared.

Yet according to the news reports airing these days, Marino’s mother always had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. She wasn’t sure that the gravesite she was visiting all these years really had her son lying at rest.

Her feeling never went away, and it is what ultimately caused the remains believed to be those of Marino to be exhumed. A sample of DNA was taken, and compared to a DNA sample from the mother.

THE CONCLUSION? THERE’S no way that the woman is the mother of whoever it really is that has lay in a grave all these years with a Marino headstone identifying it.

The dental records were wrong. What next? We’re going to learn that fingerprints can’t be trusted!

Or maybe DNA itself isn’t the foolproof bit of evidence that we’ve been led to believe – particularly by all those television dramas that invariably have evidence being analyzed in all kinds of funky ways so that the TV cops can arrogantly proclaim the guilt of the person they arrested.

I realize that those TV dramas are usually phony like other entertainment programs – the bits of evidence found at real crime scenes rarely produce such definitive results as they always seem to do in the hands of people like Emily Procter, the actress of one of those CSI-type programs who looks much better than any real criminal law person I have ever met.

BUT SHOULD WE be placing such trust in genetic evidence that most of us don’t really understand – which means we’re forced to take the word of a lab technician?

It reminds me of the first criminal case I ever covered in which DNA evidence was used – it was at the Criminal Courts building in 1989 and involved the rape and strangulation of a young woman.

A young man was arrested, ultimately convicted, and the last I knew was still serving a natural life prison term – even though his mother was convinced that her son didn’t do it. Her nephew (the defendant’s cousin) did it, she said.

Even though prosecutors claimed that the DNA was definitive enough to show that it just couldn’t be!

THE JURY BOUGHT it. Yet I also remember a year later covering a criminal trial in the courts of Sangamon County (that’s the Springfield area) where the defense attorney kept mocking the idea of DNA evidence – repeatedly referring to them as “spaghetti strands” that don’t mean anything.

I find it interesting that in the case of Marino, people are taking the DNA evidence as all-definitive – even though it means that dental records now have to be questioned. Are we going to start getting a lot of claims from other people whose cases involved dental records saying that those were flawed as well?

And what happens when future technology comes up with something more precise than the current DNA tests. Will we someday learn that a lot of our “absolutely, positively guilty” verdicts we’re reaching now are somehow flawed?


Friday, October 26, 2012

EXTRA: Who had the worst week?

It wasn’t a good week for Chicago’s former baseball icons.

Most of the attention went to Ozzie Guillen, the former All Star shortstop-turned-World Series-winning manager who lost his job as manager of the Miami Marlins.

TEAM OWNER JEFFREY Loria is of the mindset that Ozzie was the problem with his last-place ballclub – even though it appears that the Marlins ballplayers by-and-large enjoyed having Ozzie around.

Which means this may well be an example of the chaotic nature of the Marlins’ baseball organization.

But Guillen wasn’t the only ballplayer to get himself in the news. And at least he kept himself sober!

Guillen’s former White Sox teammate, Carlton Fisk, got himself national attention (that’s what he gets for being a Hall of Fame ballplayer) when he was found barely conscious sitting in a truck parked in the middle of a cornfield near suburban New Lenox.

FISK USED TO live there (and also in nearby Lockport), but now is among the many who have retired to Florida. But nobody knows exactly what he was doing there at that time – although police say they found open liquor in his vehicle.

So now Fisk has to face a DUI-type charge. He is scheduled to appear in court again late in November. He may well lose his driver’s license for a time. He has added a line to his eventual obituary – although I suspect it won’t erase the images of him trying to wave “fair” his home run from the 1975 World Series (the only one he ever got to play in during a two-decade-long career).

Yet that comes across as better than that of Mark Grace, the one-time Chicago Cubs first baseman whom some fans think ought to be a Hall of Famer (others disagree, and not so respectfully).

He lost his job as a broadcaster with the Arizona Diamondbacks after a DUI arrest of his own earlier this year. Team officials say it wasn’t his first such incident, and he had been warned.

YET HE NOW has bigger concerns than trying to find a new job. It seems that authorities in Arizona came up with a criminal indictment related to his arrest.

His case will be more than a standard DUI incident. This will have the potential to mar his life for awhile, and will be more than just a single line in his eventual life’s story.

Which means that Guillen may well be the most fortunate of the batch. For he had a four-year contract to manage the Marlins (of which he only worked one year). He still gets paid!


Casinos, glorious casinos located everywhere, sounds like nightmare to me

Sometimes, I wonder what goes through the minds of people who are eager to have gambling in the form of slot machines.

Because it seems they won’t be happy until we have the chance to play a slot machine everywhere we go. A trip to the tavern? Toss away a few quarters.

HOW ABOUT A trip to the supermarket? Get people all worked up that they can win enough money to “buy” their groceries that day, and claim it’s their own fault when they wind up losing.

Catching a flight to somewhere, and you have a layover at a stray airport? Pass the time away by trying to win a few bucks, that perhaps you could then spend on overpriced items at the airport gift shop!

The latter scenario is the one we’re focused on now, as the City Council used budget hearings to consider whether slot machines ought to be installed at O’Hare International Airport.

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino pointed out how slot machines are now common sights at airports around the world – not just the one at Las Vegas (where the slots at the airport used to be an amusing sign of just how reliant that city’s existence was on gambling and casinos).

OF COURSE, ANDOLINO didn’t bring up any of the potential for moralistic flaws in having gambling. She described a situation where people could spend that four-hour layover at O’Hare by getting a spa treatment, something to eat, then entertaining themselves by pitching quarter after quarter into the slot machine – in hopes of winning themselves a few bucks before they move along to their actual destination.

Personally, I don’t care if people want to gamble (and yes, it’s gambling, not gaming). The idea of a casino in an airport doesn’t stir up some special sense of disgust in my mind.

Will this soon become the "O'Hara" casino?
But it’s just the idea that I wonder where the idea of slot machines outside of traditional casinos will end.

Do we really need to have them at the public library, or in our favorite fast-food restaurants? How about mobile slot machines on board the “el” or perhaps all the old telephone booths can be converted so that people can fulfill their urge to gamble while walking down the street?

YES, THESE KINDS of images are quite a bit over the top. They are extreme.

But I get the sense that the supporters of expanded gambling (the ones who argue that any moralistic qualms about gambling are irrelevant at a time when many governments need all the tax revenue they can get to pay their bills) really want us to be able to toss away our spare change on something other than a video game.

Hey, why not convert all those old video arcades into places where people could gamble?

My own viewpoint is that there has to be some limit to the number of gambling opportunities, otherwise they wind up cannibalizing revenue from each other.

WHICH WOULD MAKE no one location all that profitable. You need to have fewer casino gambling opportunities in order for them to take in significant amounts of revenue (which is what is needed in order for the government taxes to reach significant levels).

Personally, it was why I was kind of pleased to see Gov. Pat Quinn use his veto power to reject the bill that would have created a Chicago casino, another in southern Cook County and a third not far from Waukegan, along with a couple others outside of the Chicago-area and slot machines at places like racetracks, the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield AND the Chicago-area airport.

What we have is city officials trying to keep alive a concept that Quinn has already dropped the bomb on – and for good reason.

Otherwise, we’d probably have to carry the slot machine plan out to its extreme – when will be the day that a slot machine will be installed in everybody’s home? We can lose our money directly to government while clad in our pajamas without ever having to walk out the front door.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

What is it about ideologues and rape? Will it help or hurt Hoosier candidate

I’ll give Richard Mourdock, the Hoosier Republican who’s running for U.S. Senate, one bit of credit. He’s not offering up some phony-baloney non-apology for his comments concerning rape and pregnancy.
MOURDOCK: What was he thinking?

He’s standing solidly behind his statement that makes him sound like a buffoon.

THAT’S CALLED PRINCIPLES, I suppose. But at least the current Indiana state treasurer is not adding to the verbal trash that he initially spewed.

For it seems that the political people who want to appeal to conservative ideologues didn’t learn much of anything from the outcry that Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri caused when he referred to “legitimate rape.”

As though some acts of rape can be justified. A nonsense statement if ever there  was one.

Until Mourdock, the Republican with “Tea Party” alliances who knocked out long-time Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the May primary, came along.

WHAT BROUGHT UP the issue was a question about whether abortion should be restricted even in cases where a woman wants to end a pregnancy in a case involving a rape or incestuous conduct.

Even many Republicans who like to use the “pro-life” label and like to think they identify with the ranks of people who wish abortion were still considered a criminal act accept those areas as one where exceptions should be permitted.

Not Mourdock!
DONNELLY: Will he benefit?

As he put it, “I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

IS THAT REALLY how a rational human being thinks? God intends for some women to be raped? Perhaps Mourdock thinks that rape and pregnancy is “God’s way” of punishing the wicked! What hurts is that Mourdock’s attempts to clarify his meaning have been vague to the point of meaningless.

I really don’t know what to make of such a thought. Personally, I always thought of rape as another example of how some fairly crummy acts happen in life. The idea that there is some sort of thought process that can justify it is nothing more than absurd.

Yet this is the man whom Indiana Republicans picked to represent their political party in the Nov. 6 general elections, and for six years further should he manage to defeat Joe Donnelly – a South Bend attorney and member of the House of Representatives who has his own conservative ideological leanings.

But Donnelly gets Democratic backing – including some financial help in the way of fundraisers organized by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – because he will occasionally go along with President Barack Obama.

UNLIKE SOMEONE LIKE Mourdock, who seems to want to be a part of the faction that views itself as the “firewall” for society protecting us all from an Obama presidency.

The real question is how the Indiana residents (including those who live just across State Line Road from us) will react.

The Mitt Romney presidential campaign went so far as to issue a statement saying it “disagrees” with what Mourdock said, although later it came out with another statement clarifying that it still supported the Mourdock campaign. A part of me would not be surprised to learn that some Indiana residents react to that statement by dumping on Romney.

It might be construed as yet another example of how Romney isn’t really “one of them,” and how the party might have been better off with somebody like Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum.

AS IT IS, various polls show the U.S. Senate from Indiana campaign to be a close one – so close that we don’t really know who’s leading (the dreaded statistical tie).

I don’t really know if this will weaken or strengthen Mourdock’s position. Among society as a whole, it hurts him.

But it becomes all too easy for the zealots to turn out in force and rely on the apathy of the masses to keep them at home on Election Day.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Detroit/S.F. match-up may disappoint, but it's still the World Series

I’ll be honest – I was hoping for a World Series matchup this year between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals.

Not only would it have been a matchup between the two ballclubs that finished the regular season with the best winning records in their respective leagues, I would have loved to see the frustration from Chicago Cubs fans as yet another city with a losing history made it to the series before their precious Cubbies.

WASHINGTON, AFTER ALL, hasn’t had any of its assorted baseball teams throughout the years play in a World Series since 1933. No D.C. ballclub has won the Series since 1924.

But that isn’t going to happen. The Nationals blew a playoff lead to the St. Louis Cardinals, while the Yankees who appeared so significant in the first round of playoffs against the Baltimore Orioles withered away into insignificance against the Detroit Tigers.

Those same Tigers who barely scraped past the Chicago White Sox will go into the record books as American League champions for 2012. They will take the field in San Francisco Wednesday night – where the World Series against the National League champion Giants will begin.

Detroit versus San Francisco. I’ve heard of worse series matchups, I suppose.

BUT THAT’S WHAT it’s going to be for the next few days – possibly through Nov. 1 if the World Series actually manages to drag through all seven games.

I must confess to being unsure of who to root for in this particular pairing. I am a fan of the American League, and I usually root for the American League champions come World Series-time (and the league’s All Star team come the All Star Game).

I know some White Sox fans are so appalled at the fact that their ballclub didn’t even make it into the playoffs that there’s no way they’d even think of rooting for Detroit. Although considering how badly the White Sox played the final month of the season, I’d argue they didn’t deserve a playoff spot.

But a part of me has to confess to admiring this particular version of a San Francisco Giants ballclub.

THEY WERE THE team that was one game away from elimination in the first round of playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds – then came from behind to win three straight games.

Then in the second round of playoffs against St. Louis, they were down 3 games to 1 – at which point Giants manager Bruce Bochy made a wisecrack about having the Cardinals “right where we want them.”

Yet as it turns out, the Giants then managed to pull off three straight victories against St. Louis to win the round, and the National League pennant.

That last game in particular amazed me – particularly the final inning when the rainfall that had been hitting San Francisco all day Monday came down in a deluge. If it hadn’t have been the final inning of Game Seven of the National League Championship Series, I’m sure the umpires would have delayed the event – if not postponed it.

WATCHING GIANTS’ INFIELDER Marco Scutaro struggle to avoid slipping on the slick grass while catching the pop-up that was the final out of the Giants 9-0 victory was a truly nerve-wracking moment. I’m sure Boston Red Sox fans, in particular, are wishing their last-place ballclub had never gotten rid of him. It also was more intriguing than the final presidential debate, which seemed more like Mitt Romney trying to moderate himself into another Barack Obama when it comes to foreign policy that I can envision his followers being utterly repulsed.

Washington continues to wait for World Series

It’s kind of difficult for me to think of rooting against this Giants ballclub – even if it has been a few years since an American League team won a World Series and the American League “fan” in me feels like it’s overdue.

And I’m sure Detroit Tigers fans are gleefully awaiting a chance to see if their team’s acquisition of rotund slugger Prince Fielder for a big-bucks, long-term contract will pay off.

Being able to say that the Tigers got a World Series victory in the first year of the Fielder contract will go a long way towards erasing the complaints that will arise in the final years of the contract when Fielder is nowhere hear the feared hitter he is now – but will still get paid as though he is.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Give “hope” and “change” a 2nd chance

To me, at least, the third and final presidential debate held Monday night didn’t matter.
OBAMA: Seeking a second chance

For on Monday just a few hours prior to the event, I went to a local early voting center and cast my ballot for the Nov. 6 general elections – including a vote for Barack Obama to get a second term as U.S. president.

NOW I’M SURE people who have been reading the commentary published here throughout the years will yawn at this “pronouncement.” They probably concluded a long time ago that I’m not among the people in our society with a knee-jerk reaction against the Obama administration.

So the idea that I would cast a ballot for him over Republican nominee Mitt Romney shouldn’t be surprising.

But in the tradition of this particular weblog to offer endorsement-like explanations of my voting record as a way of expressing this site’s ideological anchoring, I will try to ‘splain myself.

And no, I won’t ramble on for more than 2,200 words (which I did back in 2008 when explaining my support for Obama over Hillary R. Clinton in the Democratic primary that year – still the longest piece of commentary I have ever written for this site).

YES, I’M MORE than willing to concede that there are people out there who backed Obama in ’08, but feel he fell short. Although I think many of those people were politically naïve in their expectations.

There always is a political opposition that desires to thwart anything an incumbent official wants to achieve.

And that opposition has been particularly fierce and outspoken when it comes to Obama. They made it clear they were appalled by his election up front, then took advantage of crummy voter turnout in the 2010 elections to get ideologically-aligned members of Congress elected.
RUSH: An 11th term in Congress?

Those officials have done little more than run interference to everything. It has been a do-nothing Congress that takes great pride in its lack of activity – because it’s not THEIR activity.

WHICH IS WHY when I stumbled across a recent editorial cartoon depicting a vision of an Obama campaign bus with a slogan painted on its site, something to the effect of, “He promises to do better in the second term,” I laughed.

Because there is an element of truth to that view of the Obama campaign.

He’s going to have to do better and be more productive if he gets a second four-year term in office. Which means he’s going to have to develop more of a political mean-streak. Perhaps the intellectual drive that some of us find appealing is going to have to accept the fact that he’s in a political “war” with his opposition.

He’s going to have to overcome them if he’s going to achieve anywhere near the goals he promised back then.

I’M SURE SOME (mostly the hard-core ideologues who have been the opposition) will argue that Obama had his chance, and should step aside to give someone else (such as themselves) a chance.

Yet I don’t buy that because it seems to me that what they’re asking for is to be rewarded politically for their obstructionism. I wonder how much better off our economy would be if we had officials trying to work together – rather than an opposition party that thinks it is acceptable for us to wait through an Obama administration of misery for them to “come to save the day” (envision Andy Kaufman’s “Mighty Mouse” routine as you read that line).

In fact, that same line of logic dictated my vote for Congress – where I live in the Illinois first Congressional district. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has been around for two decades, and a legitimate argument could be made that it is time for him to step down – but he won’t.

He’s being challenged by long-time suburban Blue Island Mayor Donald Peloquin, who isn’t the most outrageous small-town official you could have to pick from. He has his qualifications.

YET THE PEOPLE he’d be aligned with politically would be counting on him to provide the basis for nonsense such as repealing health care reform –blatantly partisan measures meant only to “erase” the Obama image from history.

Rush gets my vote largely because I don’t want to reward the ideologues who have become the problem of our government these days. If I lived in the Illinois second Congressional district (located less than a mile from where I live), I’d cast a ballot for Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., for the same reason. Or for Tammy Duckworth if I lived in the Illinois eighth.
WASHINGTON: Similar to Barack?

There’s also the fact that this election cycle is so reminiscent of the 1987 mayoral election when Harold Washington sought re-election against (amongst others) Edward R. Vrdolyak (running on the Illinois Solidarity Party ticket).

Vrdolyak was hoping that the opposition that allowed him to defy Washington would make him mayor – where he could then go about undoing the acts of the Washington years.

ADMITTEDLY, MITT IS a political wimp compared to somebody like Vrdolyak (although some of the people reluctantly backing Mitt are capable of being despicable). But it would have been a significant step backwards for Chicago and its image if “Fast Eddie” had pulled off a victory.

Do we really want our nation to make that mistake?


Monday, October 22, 2012

A Jackson ‘apologist?’ Or a political realist? ’Most candidates say little

JACKSON: A 'robo' Congressman?
The campaign for Illinois’ second congressional district took a bizarre turn when residents of the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs got one of those “robo-calls” from Jesse Jackson, Jr., himself.

It’s not the use of the “robo-call” itself. Campaigns use them all the time – hoping that a significant number of people who get the calls don’t immediately hang up the phone upon realizing it’s NOT a real-life person talking to them.

BUT JACKSON IS the public official who has been on medical leave from his Congressional post since June, and whom most people (including many of his top aides) haven’t physically seen in months.

That recorded message was Jackson’s attempt to reach out to the people whom he expects to vote for him in another 15 days, telling them among other things, “I am human. I’m doing my best.”

Now I’m sure that some people are snickering at the very attempt. Or others may claim it is some sort out outrage that Jackson would think a recorded message could somehow make up for the months of time in which he has told us nothing – and family members have tried to make us all feel guilty for even thinking we have a right to know what is going on.

Not that I’m on any guilt-trip. Jackson could have put all of this concern to rest early on, and the only people who would be complaining would be the ideologues whose real objection to the congressman is the fact that he is the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

THEY’D BE JUST as outraged as they are now. But we’d all be able to ignore him.

Yet I have to admit I can’t get too worked up over the circumstances under which Illinois second congressional voters (I live just a few blocks over the line in the Illinois first congressional district, where long-time Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin is challenging Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.) will be confronted when they cast ballots on Election Day – or at early voting centers beginning Monday.

Yes, it is true that Jackson has not been publicly seen. He’s not engaging in the typical routines of a campaign cycle.

Yet if we’re going to be honest, very few incumbent candidates are ever all that active in campaigning for re-election. They adopt the “Rose Garden” strategy that has them hide behind their incumbency and use all of its advantages to get away with saying and doing as little as possible – while counting on the local political organizations to turn out the vote as much as possible to ensure their re-election.

EVEN IF HE were physically fit, we really wouldn’t have seen or heard much more from him than we actually have. Jackson had his “serious” campaign back in the primary cycle. If anything, I wonder to what degree the level of political activity he engaged in against former Rep. Debbie Halvorson added to the stress.

Which makes me wonder if it is an issue if he’s physically capable of serving in Congress. That might be worth considering.

But I think the idea that Jackson is going into hiding during this election cycle is a non-issue – no matter how much the ideologues want to use Jackson’s condition as cover for the political cheap shots they want to take at him.

I’m sure some people are going to want to believe that I’m being an apologist for the Jackson campaign by downplaying the reality of his campaign activity.

IT’S JUST THAT I don’t think it’s all that relevant. The only officials who actually get out on the campaign trail and aggressively court every vote they can get are the people who are in competitive races.

Some people would have you think that every Democratic candidate ought to be campaigning as publicly as Tammy Duckworth – who has her bid for the Illinois eighth congressional district seat currently held by one-term Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill.

That just isn’t realistic. It doesn’t work that way. It shouldn’t work that way.

Because if we really had every single political candidate hitting the stump every single day spewing all their campaign rhetoric, I’m sure we’d get so sick of hearing from them that we’d want to pass a law banning anybody from ever publicly campaigning for office.