Saturday, August 31, 2013

Muslim convention – holiday weekend fun or target for troublemaking rabble?

It will be intriguing to watch suburban Tinley Park this weekend, as the community with a convention center will be the site of a convention meant to give the public greater awareness of Islam as a religion.

It’s the 24th annual event, and it’s being held this year at the Tinley Park Convention Center. Starting Friday, it is scheduled to run through Sunday.

LOOKING AT THE program for the event put forth on the Internet, it would seem that the weekend will include sessions such as a fashion show, children’s activities and other programs meant to bolster the interests of small business owners within the Muslim community.

It seems like many other sessions I have seen take place throughout the years, and seems to be about as un-notable as those programs.

Except, …

Things always get different these days whenever we talk about the Middle East and Islam. Certain people always are going to want to let their paranoia run amok and their ignorance take over.

ANYBODY WHO WANTS to convince me that this gathering coming right at the Labor Day holiday weekend is somehow a gathering of subversives wishing to take over the nation can just stow it right now!

I’m not in the mood for hearing paranoid pap. Then again, these are probably the same people who think the Labor Day holiday weekend is somehow subversive because it celebrates the concept of the worker. As though Karl Marx is the primary thought that runs through our minds when we roast a few weenies (or whatever other edible we choose to consume) for a holiday barbecue.

Personally, I see the event being put together by The Mosque Cares of suburban East Hazel Crest and Imam W. Deen Mohammad as just more evidence that our Chicago area continues to evolve in its ethnic composition.

But I also can’t help note the location of the convention and its proximity to Orland Park (the two suburbs are adjacent in southwestern Cook County – a region that has developed a significant Arab population in its many municipalities). That was the site of an incident just a couple of weeks ago.

THE LOCAL PUBLIC library put together a program for the community in which academics with knowledge of Arabs, the Middle East and Islam were to speak – in hopes of educating the public.

Instead, a collection of radical types showed up with the intent of disrupting the program – while trying to claim it was the fault of the people on the panel that there was any controversy.

All too similar to the actions of some 50 years ago when civil rights activists who were abused by angry white mobs were then further dumped on by police – with the establishment trying to justify such conduct by claiming the activists caused the problem by not staying in their (subservient, of course) place.

Perhaps it is evidence of how we have advanced in a half-century. When the police were called for in Orland Park, no one got arrested. But it was quickly seen that the problem was from the people whose purpose was disruption.

THE LOCAL POLICE did not follow the literal words of one-time Mayor Richard J. Daley and “preserve disorder.” They kept the two sides from erupting into a full-fledged riot of any sort. They did their jobs.

Let’s only hope that nothing similar (as I write this commentary on Friday, I am unaware of any outbursts) occurs during this holiday weekend.

Because I really can’t see how an event that includes a session on what exactly preparation of food in accordance with Halal could create any legitimate controversy.

Unless the Muslims themselves take offense to the fact that their convention was being held in a facility (although not necessarily the same room) that, just a week earlier, was the site of the Midwest Pole Dancing Competition!


Friday, August 30, 2013

EXTRA: Quinn digs into political past

Gov. Pat Quinn made a batch of political appointments late Friday with the desire to maintain the status quo. But he may have dug into some dirt that could resurrect decades-old spats.

ZOLLAR: Back in her days of political relevance
The Illinois Gaming Board will continue to be run by Aaron Jaffe and Michael Holewinski – who will remain as chairman and vice-chair. Meanwhile, Shirley Madigan (the spouse of Illinois House Speaker Michael and mother of state Attorney General Lisa) will still be in charge of the Illinois Arts Council.

BUT THE GOVERNOR dug into the political past by a couple of decades in picking a new trustee for Chicago State University.

The vacant seat on the board of trustees for the very urban college on 95th Street and King Drive will go to Nikki Zollar. She currently is president and CEO of Triad Custodial Services and president of SafeSpeed LLC.

But she has her political ties too. Under then-Gov. Jim Edgar, she was director of the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. And before that, she was appointed back in the days of Mayor Harold Washington to be chairwoman of the city’s Board of Election Commissioners.

It was in those days that Zollar got her moment of political “fame,” although I have to confess to needing to look through the old newspaper clippings from the late 1980s because the specifics of how she got “dumped” on had slipped my mind.

Nikki Zollar's past ...
IT WAS LARGELY the internal squawking of board members who wanted to create alliances to ensure that they would always prevail. It was a load of petty politicking.

The end result of which was that Zollar became the target of an effort in which the election board’s chairman had much of its authority – including the authority to hire, fire, promote or transfer people – taken away from her.

... and future (possibly) ...
At the time, it was described as an effort by the enemies of then-4th Ward Alderman Timothy Evans (now the Cook County Circuit Court chief judge) to take power away from anyone who might become an Evans ally (back in the days when Evans desired to be mayor himself). And yes, many of those “enemies” were people aligned with the then-new mayor, Richard M. Daley.

... political allies
All this happened in 1989, and Zollar didn’t exactly make any friends for herself with her actions in the 1990 election cycle; she threw her lot in with the Republicans! She backed GOP candidate Edgar and helped shift just enough of the African-American vote away from Democratic challenger Neil Hartigan that Edgar won.

EDGAR GAVE HER the reward of being director of one of the lesser state agencies. But after he departed the political scene 15 years ago, she hasn’t been anything in government since.

Until now, with Quinn being willing to turn to Zollar for a college trustee’s post. A comeback?

Or is this going to stir up a whole lot of memories that, until now, had receded into the past. The establishment Dems who didn’t want her having any authority because she might be opposed to Richard M., and the black pols who can’t comprehend her willingness to work with Republicans.

The squabbles that could arise – especially from the overly-politicized Chicago State U. board. It’s got all the potential to be ugly because Chicago political people have a knack of being able to hold a grudge; they don't forget who they hate -- even if they can't quite remember why they're displeased with the person to begin with!


Political people can’t get themselves to like each other under any circumstances

Why is it that I believe Gov. Pat Quinn actually has a chance to get himself re-elected to another four-year term? Perhaps it is because of the distaste and confusion Republicans have for each other.

DURKIN: Now an important person
I wonder seriously if the partisanship within the GOP will keep them from uniting behind a single candidate – no matter who gets the Republican nomination.

AND FOR ANYONE who tries to tell me that I’m exaggerating this distaste, I’d argue it was perfectly on display in recent days what with all the bickering that took place within the ranks as they tried to pick a new leader of the Republican caucus in the Illinois House of Representatives.

For the record, we now have the concept of “Illinois House Minority Leader James Durkin, R-Western Springs.” The GOP caucus convened in Springfield on Thursday, and a majority of them picked the west suburban legislator over Raymond Poe – who for nearly two full decades has been the legislator who represents the rural area around Springfield.

Tom Cross, the state representative from Oswego, has led the GOP caucus for the past decade. But he gave up the leadership post immediately so he could focus his attention on his dreams to run for Illinois state treasurer.

In one sense, this became a battle of suburban versus rural – with the suburbs prevailing. That shouldn’t be a shock, since the suburbs of Chicago (if one counts the Cook County portion with the people who live in the five surrounding counties) account for nearly half of Illinois’ population.

THE PEOPLE WHO were eager to see Ray Poe get the post were largely motivated by the idea of wanting a legislative leader who came from a very un-urban (the people who actually think Springfield itself is a large city) part of Illinois.

POE: Too rural? Pro-union?
But following the afternoon vote at a Springfield hotel, the Republicans chose Durkin – who in 2002 tried running for the U.S. Senate seat; only to lose to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

By comparison, Poe has never been anything but a Springfield-area legislator. Although he has the reputation of being a good cook (and I recall one time back when I lived and worked in Springfield when he brought the portable kitchen out to the Statehouse and cooked for the legislators, staffers and other Capitol hangers-on – including myself and the rest of the press corps).

The people who wanted Poe are probably going to be peeved at the reality we now face – all four legislative leaders of the Illinois General Assembly are from Cook County. The Democratic leaders are both from Chicago, while state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno is from southwest suburban Lemont.

NOW WE GET a House Republican leader from the land out near Brookfield Zoo.

MADIGAN: Ready to battle Durkin?
During this dispute, we had the Illinois Family Action group coming out strongly against Durkin, claiming that giving him the leadership post strengthens the chance that a bill to legitimize marriage for gay couples will actually become law.

Even though Durkin himself was among the political people who had said they were reluctant to back it.

Although Poe has his own critics when it comes to the issue of revamping the way pension programs are funded by state government. He didn’t vote for the plan preferred by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, that would have called for larger sacrifices by the unions – because his fellow GOPers would have disowned him if he had backed anything that was Madigan-affiliated.

ONE-TIME ILLINOIS ATTORNEY General Ty Fahner, who now heads the Civic Committee, said Poe is openly hostile towards business interests? How, you may ask.

He’s not appropriately anti-union enough for them. Although considering that a disproportionate share of Poe’s constituents (compared to other legislators who don’t live near Springfield year-round) are state government workers, it could be argued he was merely voting along with their interests.

Which, the last time I checked, is what a legislator is supposed to do.

These kinds of arguments are not limited to the now-complete political brawl for a legislative leadership post.

QUINN: Another term in sight?
IN THE GUBERNATORIAL campaign, candidates William Brady and Dan Rutherford are likely to be the ones who want the 96 other, as in not the Chicago-area, counties to give them significant votes. While Kirk Dillard and Bruce Rauner may be counting on the overwhelming number of people who live in the overall Chicago area (about 65 percent) to back them.

Yet I can’t help but see a whole lot of sore losers who will have trouble uniting.

Which is exactly what the "Mighty" Quinn privately (he’ll never admit it) must be praying for when it comes to the primary and general election cycles we’ll experience in ’14. This, along with state Rep. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, putting to rest on Thursday any speculation that he'd run for governor as a Democrat are definitely pluses for the incumbent.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Only the “right” would think eating like a child is a cause worth fighting for

If first lady Michelle Obama can be accused of feeding “vomit” to schoolchildren, I can’t help but wonder what slurs will be slung at the name and reputation of Gov. Pat Quinn.

How many kids would think this lunch is fine, except for those stinkin' peaches in the corner?
For the governor’s people these days are reviewing a series of changes in the guidelines as to what can be fed to children who are at licensed day care centers – all under the guise in improving their health and reducing the chance they will become overweight.

NO COOKIES OR cakes for the young kids, along with limits on sugary or fatty foods – in addition to bans on how long (no more than 30 minutes) they can be inactive. Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials say these changes, and others, could take effect sometime in the spring of 2014.

All in all, it would sound like a noble goal – even if the kids themselves will likely whine and cry about the loss of cookies and other foods they should only be getting in moderation.


You just know that the conservative ideologues of our society will feel the need to trash Quinn for trying to dictate what it is their kids can consume. They may argue that they had cookies and other junk as kids, and they turned out fine.

I’D ARGUE AGAINST that concept. If they really think this is a great moral crusade that symbolizes our right to personal freedom, they have some seriously misplaced priorities.

OBAMA: Crusading against obesity
They’re also negligent as parents if they believe all that junk is acceptable for their kids. But that’s another issue.

What caught my attention about news coverage of the day care proposal being considered in Illinois was a story I stumbled across earlier this week – concerning the school lunches being fed to students in Harlan, Ky.

The Daily Enterprise newspaper reported last week about a school board meeting where students complained about getting wheat bread instead of white, actual vegetables, and limits on fried potatoes and meat portions.

THEY ALSO DON’T like getting milk that is 1 percent rather than whole, and non-fat versions of chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk.

QUINN: No cookies for kiddies?
One school board member paraphrased the attitude of students by saying, “they say it tastes like vomit.” Which gave the Daily Caller website the ammunition they wanted when they rewrote the story this week with a political spin.

How else to describe a story with the headline, Kentucky students to first lady Michelle Obama: Your food ‘tastes like vomit’ The website also published in the text of their story that, “the food on offer in the cafeteria is crappy…”

The story also reported how the federal government dictates, through the National School Lunch Program, the content and portion sizes of the lunches served in schools.

THE INTENT OF the guidelines is remarkably similar to the daycare guidelines being considered in Illinois – controlling calorie counts to prevent people from getting fat on poor food, while also increasing the chance someone will consume something healthy; even if it’s just by mistake.

As far as the alleged low quality of food, I have no doubt the students are complaining. I suspect they’re going to complain regardless of what is actually put on their plates.

I can recall being a student some three to four decades ago and being offered up all the fried food options that now are being limited – along with tasteless pizza that was gobbled up because it we thought it was a novelty. We didn’t know better!

Which is what I’d argue in response to those Kentucky kids who think they’re consuming “vomit.”

AS FOR THOSE parents who are willing to use their kids’ malcontent natures to play partisan politics, I’d argue, “Grow up!”

And as for the people in Illinois who inevitably will complain about Pat Quinn and his actions with regards to day care centers, I’d ask if they really want to get all worked up over the loss of a cookie.

Do you really want to be whining like a batch of 4-year-olds who didn't get their favorite "treat" for the day?


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Is Dillard done? Hinting at a hike in gas prices could mean the answer's "yes"

I take it that Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kirk Dillard doesn’t care much about getting votes from anyone who lives anywhere near the borders Illinois shares with Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri or Kentucky.

DILLARD: Higher gas prices?!?
Why else would he suggest implementing a second state tax on gasoline to try to raise money for road maintenance? Particularly as an alternative to more gambling opportunities?

DILLARD WAS AMONG the gubernatorial dreamers who attended Conservative Summit Conference held in Burr Ridge this weekend. It was the chance for the GOP candidates to reach out to the ideologically-inclined amongst the electorate; and it worked because the group backed his campaign over that of challenger William Brady.

That was because the state senator from Hinsdale and chief of staff to former Gov. Jim Edgar (whom he felt the need to point out he’s more conservative than) took his stance – amongst many – according to the Illinois Review website that actually covered the event.

He tried to portray it as a view against gambling. He hinted he’d like to scale back the number of casinos and other gambling opportunities – rather than be pushing for a measure to expand the number of casinos. That may get the backing of the moralists who want to rant about people losing their souls (and money) at the casinos.

But I can’t think of any combination of stances that would kill his campaign chances than these two. Paying more at the gas pump? And having to drive further to get to the casino?

NOT ONLY DOES it cost him the support of everybody who wants to have a casino nearby, it will kill his chances for people who make a point of driving over the state line to put gasoline in their cars.

When one considers the south suburbs where many officials want a casino in their area AND hate the gasoline prices they pay locally compared to Indiana-based stations, Dillard becomes the guy who will finish dead-last amongst the gubernatorial dreamers.

Dillard probably figures he’s not getting much support there anyway (it’s a region where Pat Quinn gets taken seriously, largely because everybody else comes across as pathetic), so what does he have to lose? Just the respect of anybody sick of paying $4 or more for gasoline!

What else is notable these days along the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan?

TURNING GRAFFITI INTO ART?: Epifanio Monarrez is taking on a task that some people are going to find pleasing and others will be bothering about – he’s trying to undermine the street-gang related graffiti that exists in his home Little Village neighborhood.

Epifanio Monarrez is trying to clean up his neighborhood, in his own way
Monarrez, according to the Hispanically Speaking News website, goes about altering the graffiti in his neighborhood to try to turn it into art – which also undermines the whole purpose of graffiti in that gang members use it to “mark” their territory.

However, Monarrez said he does not get hassled by the gangs for his activity – although I’m sure his biggest critics are those people who would prefer that the graffiti be erased altogether; and not treated as though it could be legitimized in any way!

For the record, Monarrez says he gets a property owner’s permission before he does anything, and he asks the owner to kick in for the cost of the paint.

THEY DON’T WANT NO STINKIN’ PERMITS: The firearms advocates are still upset that they couldn’t start “packin’ heat” the exact day that the General Assembly voted to approve a “concealed carry” measure for Illinois.

For those who need instruction
They now have their case before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago, but they’re upset that arguments won’t be heard until Oct. 3 – and that it is uncertain how long it will take the court to reach a decision.

Despite the fact that they were able to pressure the General Assembly into giving them their legal concept, and also dump on Gov. Pat Quinn’s attempts to moderate the measure (I suspect the Legislature would have dumped on Quinn just for kicks), they are still looking for something to complain about.

For the record, the Illinois State Police says it needs some time to put together the process by which they will grant the “concealed carry” permits. What really bothers the advocates is that there has to be a process at all.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Will we someday get accusations that the Tribune is favoring the Dodgers?

We learned last week that the billionaire (and ideologue) Koch brothers are backing away from any interest they might have had in purchasing the Chicago Tribune, along with other publications, to give themselves a public voice.

Will Chicago Tribune corporate decisions someday be made from Dodger Stadium?
But now, we have to wonder who else out there might be willing to undertake ownership of the one-time “World’s Greatest Newspaper” (which never was, in reality).

WHICH IS WHY I took interest in a Los Angeles Times report indicating that Mark Walter is interested in buying that newspaper, and also the Tribune. Which is a plus, since current Tribune ownership has said they want to sell all their newspapers in one fell swoop.

They really don’t want to split them up in separate sales – which would allow for the potential of local ownership for all the publications.

Instead, it is likely we’re going to get out-of-town ownership of the Tribune when the day comes that it is sold off.

Although in the case of Walter, it isn’t really clear whether he should be considered an out-of-town owner.

HE’S THE CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago-based financial services firm that claims to control $180 billion in assets. He's an Iowa native, and a Northwestern University law school graduate. But he’s also the controlling partner in the group of people that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Owning the major Los Angeles ball club (let’s be honest, the Los Angeles Angels are the team of suburban Anaheim) and the major newspaper would reinforce Walters as a significant part of the L.A. establishment.

Although having the Tribune in the hands of someone who’s part of a wealthy Chicago firm could also be a claim for local ownership as well. Who’s to say how this will truly play out?

I suspect it will be perceived as an L.A. guy buying the Chicago Tribune. It may well be perceived as the Los Angeles Dodgers owning the Chicago Tribune.

WHICH MIGHT SOUND bizarre, although let’s not forget the one-time Tribune Co. ownership of the Chicago Cubs. All the times that people got all worked up in claiming that the Tribune newspaper was biased in favor of the Cubs and was doing whatever it could to puff up the image of that loser ball club?

Will we now hear claims that the Tribune is being used by its out-of-town owners to bolster the image of the Dodgers (who, to be honest, haven’t won a thing worth noting in a quarter of a century)?

Will we get the kind of whining that the Tribune isn’t looking out for its home city – similar to the whining we got a decade ago from L.A. people that the Times was being run by Tribune-oriented people?

Will we all have serious migraine headaches by the time all this speculation is complete? Most likely!

ALTHOUGH I’M ALSO wondering if this is going to be the trend of the future with regards to media organizations – which for awhile were buying ball clubs so that they could have more control over the broadcasts of sports events and make bigger bucks off of them.

Now, we’re seeing ball clubs buying media organizations (remember the Boston Globe being purchased by the ownership of the Boston Red Sox?). Could this be a sign that the ball clubs want more control over their image that they’re willing to buy entire news organizations just to run their sports sections?

We should keep in mind that all of this is speculation – what with the way the Tribune officials have said it will be some time (maybe next year?) before they’re ready to deal away their newspapers.

Which means we could easily get some goofier scenario that may make us wonder someday why we were so worked up at the thought of the Koch brothers being in Chicago?


Monday, August 26, 2013

In this year’s governor political brawl, will we be looking at running mates?

First off, let me state up front that I don’t have a clue who any candidate for governor of Illinois in next year’s election cycle is going to choose for a running mate.

I also believe that anybody who says they know how the running mates will impact the overall election is merely guessing. It will be tough to say how a choice for lieutenant governor will alter the process – now that the process itself has been altered.

FOR WE’RE GOING to have to see how it works out that candidates for governor will have to choose a running mate and run with them in the primary election – similar to how the vice president is paired up with the president in the general elections for federal office.

It won’t be quite the same, since for president the nominees don’t pick a running mate until after the primary season is over.

But in Illinois, each candidate for governor is going to have to pick someone – and the pair will run in the primary elections scheduled for March. Which means many people who aspire to be the gubernatorial replacement in the event something happens to the governor himself will wind up going down with the ship next year.

Although I’m also wondering how the choice of a running mate may be the factor that helps voters pick through the field of candidates that is still developing.

I AM SEEING a field of candidates for governor where I seriously believe the voters will wind up picking the person they despise the least. Could that mean the choice of a lieutenant governor candidate could become a factor in people deciding who they vote for?

About the only time I remember lieutenant governor being an issue before was the 1994 Democratic primary – where gubernatorial candidates Roland Burris and Richard Phelan paired themselves up with the two women seeking the lieutenant governor nomination.

Phelan’s pick, then-state Sen. Penny Severns of Decatur, wound up winning the primary, but got paired up with the one gubernatorial candidate – Dawn Clark Netsch – who didn’t pick out a preferred running mate.

Which added another layer of tensions to the general election campaign that year – one in which then-Gov. Jim Edgar used his financial advantages to emphasize her political problems and bury her come Election Day.

SO IT’S NOT like a running mate was a plus that year, either!

Could this be the election cycle that proves to be the exception to the general rule of thumb that people vote for the top of the ticket, and really don’t care about the running mate – whose purpose according to the Illinois Constitution is really to be on hand in case the top official dies or is otherwise unable to complete the term.

Just like Pat Quinn himself, who wound up being paired with Rod Blagojevich when the latter was removed from office through the impeachment process. I believe that whole fiasco showed us the value of the lieutenant governor post.

It became easier for state government officials to vote to dump a governor because there was no dispute over who would succeed him. No political fight over who gets to be the replacement governor made it seem more like electoral politics, and less like the staging of a coup d’etat.

BUT BACK TO this year’s electoral process – where the candidates will have to pick somebody to accompany on them on the ballot. Some of the candidates – including Republicans William Brady and Kirk Dillard – have hinted they will name somebody around the Labor Day holiday, while Dan Rutherford on Sunday put a note on his campaign's Facebook page saying he has made up his mind and will use a Twitter account to make his decision public sometime in the near future.

Within a couple of weeks, we could start to see a slew of lieutenant governor candidates; all paired up with the people who think they're qualified to run state government.

We may also get the fate of Kwame Raoul, the state senator from the Hyde Park neighborhood who has hinted he may run for the Democratic nomination for governor. Although I wonder if the two definitive candidates (Gov. Pat Quinn and William Daley) might try to get Raoul as their running mate so as to bolster their own chances?

Or will it be the year we pick a lieutenant governor as evidence of the would-be governor’s judgment? Or just view the gubernatorial dreamer as the mill-stone around the neck of the man who gets the keys to live in the Executive Mansion in Springfield?


Saturday, August 24, 2013

EXTRA: Couldn’t Harold Baines have accepted the honor for Queen of Soul?

Alright, I get the fact that Aretha Franklin was a Detroit resident back in the 1960s and Willie Horton was a star slugger of that Tigers team that won a World Series amidst the societal unrest of 1968.

But couldn’t a Chicago-oriented ballplayer have been used to accept the Beacon Award that Major League Baseball wanted to present to the Queen of Soul? The ceremony was held, after all, at U.S. Cellular Field!

I’M NOT REALLY being facetious when I suggest that Harold Baines – the White Sox coach who was a star of the 1980s and kept playing through 2000 – could have done the duties just as well.

It’s not like anyone who spoke during the pre-game ceremonies prior to the White Sox taking on the Texas Rangers said anything all that eloquent. I’m sure that if Franklin had showed up herself (health caused her to cancel, and we had to settle for a video presentation about her musical life), she would have been more interesting.

Not that I’m knocking the ceremonies, which I caught off Comcast Sports Net (I wasn’t at the ballpark). Surprisingly enough, the cable sports channel actually showed the ceremonies – rather than just summarizing them with a few seconds of video sometime around the third inning.

I even got a kick out of seeing Minnie Miñoso, identified to the fans as the “first professional athlete of color in Chicago.” He once was just simply called the first black ballplayer with the White Sox, but we now acknowledge him as a Cuban-American who happens to be dark-skinned – and one-time catcher Sam Hairston gets to be the first African-American White Sox ballplayer for his one season back in 1951.

AS FOR THE first black ballplayer in Jackie Robinson and the first black American League ballplayer in Larry Doby, we got to see a pair of their siblings -- with promises that none other than announcer Ken Harrelson himself would get to interview Sharon Robinson. You can make your own insulting comment about such an event!

And we also got to see the seventh tribute by Major League Baseball to the Civil Rights movement. This was the Lucky 7, so to speak, Civil Rights Game – of which the White Sox have participated in three of them.

It might not have been the biggest deal in terms of tributes, although I was amused to learn that even Gov. Pat Quinn showed up Saturday for afternoon ceremonies at the Marriott Hotel on Michigan Avenue and at the ballpark itself in the evening hours.

The closest Aretha Franklin came to the South Side was on the stadium video board out beyond center field. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda
It was better than doing nothing, although I realize it pales in comparison to those people in Washington, D.C., who, on Saturday, marched to the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial to mark the half-century anniversary of the day that the civil rights leader told us of his “dream” – which we still have some ways to go before it is achieved.


Sox hit high point when it’s too late

About the only way the Chicago White Sox were going to get any R-E-S-P-E-C-T this season was because of singer Aretha Franklin’s involvement on Saturday in the Civil Rights Game being staged at U.S. Cellular Field.

Only now, in what is probably a typical happening for the White Sox in 2013, “Lady Soul” herself won’t be able to attend.

SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO RECEIVE Major League Baseball’s Beacon Award – which is supposed to honor people who encouraged positive change toward civil rights. She’s citing health reasons for being unable to be in Chicago on Saturday.

Which is kind of a shame. Since Franklin’s appearance at the ballpark prior to the White Sox’ game against the Texas Rangers could have been one of the most interesting happenings to occur at U.S. Cellular Field this season.

Saturday is still the Civil Rights Game, and a luncheon at the Marriott Hotel located near Tribune Tower. Only we’re going to have to settle for honoree Bo Jackson, and memories about how the Negro leagues of old used to play their annual East-West all-star game nearly every season at the old Comiskey Park.

Somehow, the whole “Bo Knows” movement seems a bit old – even if Jackson’s story of refusing to give in to an injury that should have been career-ending is inspiring.

BUT IT WILL be interesting to see how the White Sox manage to stage the event that in the past has been played by major league teams in southern cities as a way of paying tribute to the role that professional baseball played in desegregating the nation.

Although there are times I wonder if baseball fans pay more attention to the annual April tribute to Jackie Robinson (the one where all 750 major league ballplayers wear uniform number “42” – not just Mariano Rivera of the Yankees) than they will to what happens Saturday on the Sout’ Side.

Which would be typical of this season for the White Sox – one in which the ball club went into Friday’s game needing to only lose seven of their 35 remaining games to ensure a losing record for the season.

The fact that the White Sox played outstanding ball this week – in fact, winning eight of their past nine games, and sweeping the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals in three-game series played against each – may give hope to some fans that the team can overcome the Minnesota Twins.

THE WHITE SOX are only four games behind Minnesota. Although when a team looks at fourth place as a goal to be achieved (rather than fifth place), you know things aren’t good.
Only Sox past in '13

Which is what made Thursday’s freaky victory against the Royals all that more bizarre.

Conor Gillaspie broke up a 12th inning, 3-3 tie with what turned out to be a freaky inside-the-park home run. Gillaspie chugged his way around the bases while the Royals’ players did nothing to chase down the ball and try to throw him out.

Yahoo! Sports’ “Big League Stew” tried to make this interesting by writing about the “Hilarious Hawk Harrelson home run call.” They claimed his broadcast of the moment was truly ridiculous.

ACTUALLY, IT MERELY reflected the confusion on the field, as it appears the Royals’ outfielder, Jason Maxwell, thought that Gillaspie’s fly ball to deep right field went into the stands for a Home Run! It really bounced off the top of the wall and wound up on the field – meaning it was still in play!

Which means that Maxwell is the one at fault for not picking up a ball and trying to throw it in and get Gillaspie out on the base paths. Although it seems that none of the other Royals players had a clue either.

Let’s be honest. When you first heard the White Sox were involved in a fielding misplay that resulted in a home run, didn’t you figure that it was the White Sox defense that screwed up?

It may not rank up there with a ball bouncing off the head of Jose Canseco into the stands for a home run (as did occur in Cleveland many years ago), but it was close.

A FLUKY PLAY working to the advantage of the White Sox? When combined with those six victories in a row this week?

This may well be the baseball highlight of 2013 in Chicago.

Unless you want to take into account that series the White Sox swept from the New York Yankees a few weeks ago – when many fans seemed more intrigued by the idea that long-time (and soon-to-be retired) relief pitcher Mariano Rivera would never pitch again in Chicago.

Even that fits into the late season theory; which is that this White Sox team is only capable of playing up to its talent level when the pressure is off and it no longer matters – just like the Cubs!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Rehiring him cheaper than severance?

As someone who has, on a few occasions, had the experience of collecting severance pay because my employer saw me as a threat to their profitability, I must confess to finding the whole situation surrounding Alex Clifford to be quite hilarious.

How much more will this ride cost because of the cost of Alex Clifford's severance package?
Clifford is the former chief executive officer of the Metra commuter railroad that takes people from the suburbs into downtown Chicago. He was let go from his post, and he was given a severance package to get him out the door that went far beyond the one week’s pay for every year served with the company.

DEPENDING ON WHO one wants to trust, the total of Clifford’s severance package totals somewhere between $750,000 and $900,000.

That has Metra officials complaining, particularly since it seems that under slightly different circumstances, they could have used an insurance policy they have to actually cover the cost of the severance – rather than having to pay the cost out of their actual budget.

Clifford, of course, is being his “courteous” self (heavy sarcasm intended) in saying that he’d be more than willing to forgo his severance.

Just give him his job back!

I DON’T KNOW how sincere Clifford’s attorneys were when they made that offer earlier this week. For purposes of this commentary, I’ll presume that there are conditions under which Clifford would actually return to an entity that was eager to remove him previously.

Then again, I’d probably return to most of my former employers if the money they offered was decent enough – ie., a pay raise of sufficient size to help assuage my ego for the blows it suffered by being cut loose.

Yes, that’s sarcasm too.

But it is why I find humor in the idea that Clifford’s legal representation would make such an offer.

I SUSPECT THAT Metra officials privately are wretching at the very thought of having to pay Clifford anything more. They desperately wish that negotiations they had with Clifford back when he was let go as CEO had been more hard-lined and that they could have gotten away with making a significantly-less payment to get him to leave without incident.

Which is why the laid-off employee in me thinks it only appropriate that this particular dismissal will wind up costing Metra a significant amount of money.

After all, the premise behind a lay off is supposed to be that it will be cheaper to just throw a few weeks’ salary at someone for work not done, in exchange for not having to keep them on the payroll at salary and insurance benefits.

In the long run, it should cut costs. But as we see from this case, it doesn’t always do that.

THERE’S ALSO THE “plus” that this incident may better educate the public as to the ways of corporate actions.

Because while the idea of a few week’s pay as severance to tide us over until we quickly (in theory) find a new job is customary to you and me, to the corporate world, these larger severance payments are customary.

It seems the executives of the world think they’re supposed to make a profit out of being dismissed from a job. Because the kinds of contacts they make in their work aren’t enough to help them find new employment, they want sizable payments.

Although a payment that could be close to $1 million seems extreme – even by corporate standards.

THERE’S JUST ONE potential drawback to this whole mess – the fact that Metra isn’t really a corporate entity, but one that provides a public service.

Which means there’s a very good chance that the cost of this severance could wind up causing a future hike in our fares. As if I’m not paying enough on those occasions I use the trains on Metra’s Electric or Rock Island lines.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

EXTRA: Al Jazeera’s U.S. take not cutesy enough for “American” masses

Al Jazeera’s U.S.-oriented television channel (meant to help cleanse the Qatar-based network of claims that it is radical Islamic in nature) is up and running, and isn’t anywhere near as radical as the ideologues of our society will want to believe it is as their justification for not watching the channel.

A news alternative, for some of us
Yes, it is likely a label that will stick, and may harm the channel’s chances of success – apparently since some cable television operators already are going out of their way to cut off access to the channel.

MEANING THAT SOME people who would be willing to give it a try will not even be capable of viewing it.

In my case, that isn’t true. I found the Al Jazeera America channel on Tuesday without much trouble (Channel 107, Comcast) and have tuned in on occasions.

In fact, as I write this Thursday, my television is tuned to the channel – which is airing a report (Slavery: A 21st Century Evil) about conditions in Haiti and how some children live in ways that aren’t much different from slavery.

Not exactly the kind of report that’s going to get much airtime (if any) on any U.S.-based network. Some people are going to get bored by such subject matter. While some ideologues are going to get squeamish at the subject matter because, deep down, they’re going to realize they’re the descendants of the people who would have defended the concept as being within the “letter of the law.”

I ALSO JUST saw a promo for a program to air Thursday night by Ali Velshi where he claims to have read the entire 900-page document related to President Barack Obama’s health care reform initiatives. “Can Congress claim the same?,” he asks. Probably not!

They’re more likely to tell us about the latest reports about how Kim Kardashian is trashing Katie Couric (I still don’t understand why, although personally I could care less).

I have heard Al Jazeera people describe their new news channel as a serious news report perhaps along the line of National Public Radio on television. If there’s a better description, it is the British Broadcasting Co., which devotes serious amounts of time to the happenings of nations around the globe. I have heard quite a bit during my tune-ins on Al Jazeera America about the latest happenings in Egypt.

Although I also felt a similarity between the Al Jazeera programming and that I have seen on the news programs put together by the Christian Broadcasting Network (the channel operated by Pat Robertson).

THEIR REPORTERS OFTEN are willing to venture into underdeveloped countries and report on misery in the world – provided they can find a Western-oriented Christian to come in and try to resolve the problem.

Those stories may also get airtime on the new network – albeit without the hero coming in to save the day!

Personally, what I have most noticed about this network is the fact that a lot of faces I used to see on CNN or the other networks are now employed here – evidence to the fact that this network has created jobs within the news business.

Which is more than we can say these days about U.S.-based newsgathering organizations. Who’d have thought Al Jazeera could wind up being a boost to the U.S. economy? Albeit one that could turn to a blow if they fold a year from now.