Monthly Archives: May 2009

Speeches offering differing political views should serve students well

Many parents and community members who believe that Riverside Brookfield High School should never have invited Bill Ayers to speak on campus proclaimed a small victory a few weeks ago when they organized an appearance by talk radio personality Michael Gallagher.

In the late 1960s Ayers co-founded a domestic terrorist organization called the Weather Underground. The group protested the Vietnam War by staging riots and detonating bombs in public buildings.

A native of Glen Ellyn, Ayers now serves on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago. His relationship with President Obama came under scrutiny last year during the campaign.

Obama and Ayers got to know each other when they both lived in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and served together on the board for the Annenberg Challenge. Ayers hosted a fundraiser in his home for Obama when he began his political career in 1996 by running for the Illinois Senate.

The nature of their continued relationship has been the subject of much conjecture. Perhaps only those who are close to the two men know for sure how close they are to each other.

For at least several years Ayers has been a popular public speaker. He lectures on his ideas regarding education as well as his experiences in the Weather Underground.

Jan Goldberg, who teaches government and current events at RBHS, said her senior students asked her last year if she would invite Ayers to campus to give a talk. Interested in why he had become so newsworthy during the campaign, the students wanted to learn more about what he did during the 1960s and ’70s.

Goldberg decided to invite him to an after-school meeting the school’s Forum Club, but she said this event would be held after the election. News of the February event become more widespread a few days before it was held, and school administrators finally decided to allow parents, community members and reporters to attend.

I understand why so many people are vehemently opposed to Ayers being invited to speak about his controversial past. In talking about his group’s activities, Ayers has said that the violence the Weather Underground committed was nothing compared to the violence done for years by the U.S. government in Vietnam. Ayers believes the government was an instrument of gross injustice in those days, and this obviously offends many others.

So the event with Michael Gallagher was arranged as a way to balance the scales, so to speak. At the time that Ayers visited, Goldberg said she wanted to invite someone with a different political perspective to campus to provide an alternative viewpoint.

Ayers would not be my first choice as a speaker. If students wanted information about that era, I would get people in the government and media who were involved in these events to provide some context of what occurred.

But the school is free to invite anyone it wants. People’s primary objection is that Ayers never expressed any remorse for the violence his group committed or the people hurt as a consequence.

I’ve heard other stories. Goldberg told me earlier this year that Ayers clearly disavowed the use of violence as a method of political protest. And I’ve read other stories that made similar claims, including reports that he expressed regrets over the fact that people were hurt during the acts in which members of his group engaged.

This doesn’t satisfy many people, and I understand this. Ayers has not backed away from his views of the government’s actions in the Vietnam War, and people continue to take a dim view of his beliefs.

The trick is that Ayers’ ideas, as controversial as they are, fall within the protection of the First Amendment. Just as people may praise the government for what they believe it represents, Ayers may loathe it for what he believes it did.

Ayers’ critics have a hard time making the case of his being unrepentant about his criminal activities. Numerous articles have reported exactly the opposite. I don’t know what’s truly in his heart, but there is no doubt that he has at least publicly disavowed the use of violence.

What continues to irk them is Ayers’ views on the government during the war. But as I said, the same Constitution that protects the patriotic sentiments so many people feel about this nation guarantees Ayers the right to think poorly of the government and speak his mind. This doesn’t mean any school or group must invite him to speak, but they are within their rights to do so if they choose.

Now that Ayers’ views have been cleansed from the RBHS mindset with the visit by Gallagher, I hope people are ready to put the issue to rest. It’s definitely a lesson in how the First Amendment protects all us equally, messy though this is from time to time.

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Patriotic holidays always make me reflect on one special veteran

Memorial Day always makes me think of my father.

First of all, my dad served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. There is this great photograph of my dad and his older brother who had a chance meeting during the war.

My dad’s unit had pulled into a town in Belgium in 1944, the same town where my uncle was stationed. Someone who knew my uncle heard that my father’s unit had pulled in and went to tell my uncle about it.

What made this get-together even more special was that it was Christmas Eve. So my dad and his brother spent Christmas Eve together and went to midnight Mass. My father’s unit was shipping out the next day, and someone took this extraordinary picture of the two of them together shortly before he left.

I can’t imagine the emotions that both of them must have been going through. What are the odds that they’d ever meet while bouncing around Europe in what must have seemed like an endless war? Would they both make it back home alive, or would this be the last time they saw each other?

Thankfully they both made it home in one piece. But that photograph holds a special place for my family and my cousins. Every one of our homes has it on display.

Aside from my dad’s service in World War II, I think of him on Memorial Day because we always did a few things together. The large flag that drapped the coffin of my paternal grandfather was put on display in front of our home each patriotic holiday. The flag is unique because it has only 48 stars (Alaska and Hawaii weren’t states yet when my grandfather died).

My dad would take the flag from a living room closet, and together he and I would unfold it and attach it to hooks on our home’s front porch. Then at sundown we would take it down and carefully fold it before placing it back in the closet.

Between putting the flag up and taking it down each Memorial Day, we’d walk a few blocks west to watch the local parade (if memory serves me correctly, this is the oldest Memorial Day parade in the Chicago area). It’s a nice community event with local schools, churches, bands and organizations participating. Sometimes we’d make the trip to the park where the parade ended to watch wreath-laying ceremony and 21-gun salute.

Today I attended this year’s parade in the community where I grew up, and I love how it’s retained it’s local appeal. It’s not a long parade, and there”s nothing fancy about it. But it’s a special event, a genuine expression of gratitude from one neighborhood to all veterans who died serving our nation.

As I viewed the parade and journeyed down to the park to catch the wreath-laying ceremony, I thought of my dad. He and some of his childhood friends were honored by parade organizers several years ago by being named grand marshals. These guys have known each other since they were in elementary school, and those still alive are stil the closest of friends.

It was a special occasion for my dad and his lifelong buddies to be honored at the Memorial Day parade in the community in which they grew up. My father was pleased to hear that they were named grand marshals.

However, my dad had suffered a stroke the previous fall and was mostly bed-ridden. He died a few months before the parade was held that year, but he was in all our thoughts during the ceremony.

It’s times like these that I really miss my father, and it’s hard to believe he’s been gone for nearly a decade. But I’m so grateful that I’ll always have memories of him and what he taught me about loving our country and honoring those who protect it.

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Let’s get Cook County moving forward by impeaching Todd Stroger

It seems as though Cook County Board President Todd Stroger wakes up every morning with one goal mind: Making me angry.

And he’s accomplished this just about every day this week. In fact, Stroger has made a career out of annoying me.

Let’s start with the obscene manner in which Stroger got his job. His father, the late John Stroger, was seeking re-election as president of the County Board and was being challenged by County Board Commissioner Forrest Claypool for the Democratic nomination in the 2006 primary.

But John Stroger suffered a stroke a week before the election, and the Cook County Democratic Machine went into high gear. Family members and party bosses insisted that Stroger was up to the job and intended to serve his new term if elected. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley even appeared in a commercial while Stroger was in the hospital to endorse his candidacy.

But all of that was a lie. John Stroger was incapacitated at that point and never fully recovered (he died last year at the age of 78). He was in no condition to serve as a public official, and he should have withdrawn his name from the race immediately.

But the party bosses didn’t like the prospect of Claypool winning the Democratic primary, so these opportunistic vultures gruesomely propped up John Stroger to win the sympathy vote in the primary and then yanked him in favor of Todd Stroger in the general election. It was truly macabre; they cared nothing about this man’s condition, only to holding on to their power.

Sadly, Todd Stroger defeated County Board Commissioner Tony Peraica of Riverside in the general election that year. And he has since done nothing to improve the sorry shape of county government.

Last year Stroger ushered through the 1 percentage point sales tax increase, which has infuriated county residents. I’ve heard from some of them and have read comments on news media Web sites about how many are going out of their way to shop in either DuPage or Will counties to avoid the sales tax.

Last week, the County Board lured some disenchanted Democrats and voted 12-3 to repeal the sales tax increase. Stroger said repealing the entire sales tax increase would devastate county government — a claim that Peraica recently told me is a crock. But Stroger went ahead and vetoed the repeal Monday, insisting government needs every penny it can get.

Except if the money is coming from him, that is. This morning I heard a report on the radio that the IRS has placed a lien on his home in seeking the $12,000 in income taxes that Stroger apparently didn’t pay in 2005.

Corruption, hypocrisy, incompetence — I can’t make up my mind which is Stroger’s greatest contribution to the County Board. Whatever it is, he needs to go. I’d love to hear from any Cook County folks out there who’d be willing to take up my Impeach Todd Stroger campaign. The 2010 elections can’t come fast enough for me.

The more presssing need, however, is to convince County Board members to override Stroger’s veto. Of the 17 board members, 14 would need to vote to sustain the sales tax increase repeal.

Here are the County Board members and their office numbers (I got this idea from the Chicago Tribune, which this week listed a few of these numbers — I’m giving you all of them). Please let them know you want the sales tax increase to be repealed:

Earleen Collins, 1st District, (312) 603-4566

Robert Steele, 2nd District, (312) 603-3019 (main office), (773) 722-0140 (district office)

Jerry Butler, 3rd District, (312) 603-6391

William Beavers, 4th District, (312) 603-2065 (main office), (773) 731-1515 (district office)

Deborah Sims, 5th District, (312) 603-6381

Joan Murphy, 6th District, (312) 603-4216 (main office), (708) 389-2125 (district office)

Joseph Moreno, 7th District, (312) 603-5443 (main office), (773) 927-715 (district office)

Roberto Maldonaldo, 8th District, (312) 603-6386; chief of staff Kathleen Oskandy, (312) 603-6410

Peter Silvestri, 9th District, (312) 603-4393 (main office), (773) 774-8554 (district office)

Bridget Gainer, 10th District, (312) 603-4210

John Daley, 11th District, (312) 603-4400

Forrest Claypool, 12th District, (312) 603-6380 (main office), (773) 832-4642 (district office)

Larry Suffredin, 13th District, (312) 603-6383 (main office), (847) 864-1209 (district office)

Gregg Goslin, 14th District, (312) 603-4932 (main office), (847) 729-9300 (district office)

Timothy Schneider, 15th District, (312) 603-6388 (main office), (847) 640-1632 (district office)

Tony Peraica, 16th District, (312) 603-6384 (main office), (708) 345-5808 (district office)

Elizabeth Gorman, 17th District, (312) 603-4215 (main office), (847) 871-1717 and (708) 349-1336 (district offices)

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Madigan proposes firing thousands of Ryan, Blagojevich appointees

Here is a developing story in Springfield from our GateHouse News Service:

* * *

Breaking News: Speaker Madigan says Quinn, Cullerton don’t object to firing Ryan, Blagojevich appointees

State Capitol Bureau

GateHouse News Service

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.

12:50 p.m.: Speaker Madigan says Quinn, Cullerton don’t object to firing Ryan, Blagojevich appointees

House Speaker Michael Madigan says he has no objections from other top Democratic leaders to his idea to fire 3,000 state workers appointed and hired by two ex-governors.

Madigan says he’s discussed House Bill 4450 with Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton. Madigan says Quinn did not object to the idea, and Cullerton favors it.

Madigan’s proposal is aimed at getting rid of thousands of people put in state government under ex-Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

The speaker also says, as lawmakers work toward a new budget and wrapping up their spring session this month, that he’s prepared to vote for a tax increase that balances the budget and pays the bills but not to “grow the government.”

Madigan says he’s not interested in working on gambling expansion as a way to fill the budget hole or pay for a construction program.

State Capitol Bureau

12:35 p.m.: Speaker Madigan proposes firing thousands of Ryan, Blagojevich appointees

Unhappy with the “pace of change,” House Speaker Michael Madigan is proposing ousting thousands of state employees hired and appointed by ex-Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

Madigan announced his push today for House Bill 4450 at a Statehouse news conference.

He says the proposal to fire within two months the appointees and hires made by the criminally troubled ex-governors would affect 90 boards and commissions and about 3,000 state workers.

Madigan says the move isn’t intended to impugn the integrity of those who would be fired but to speed up work by Gov. Quinn in cleaning up government’s image.

“It’s imperative, to use his word, to fumigate the government,” Madigan said of Quinn. “I’m not satisfied with the pace of change. I think we have to move faster.”

Those affected by the measure include Ginger Ostro and Jack Lavin, both top aides under Blagojevich who have remained in top spots for Quinn since he took office Jan. 29 for the impeached Blagojevich.

Labeled the “Officials and Employees Termination Act of 2009,” the measure would get rid of agency heads, assistant heads and deputy heads who were nominated by a governor between Jan. 11, 1999, and Jan. 29, 2009. It also would apply to members of executive boards or commissions who were nominated between those dates and to other officials whose jobs require Illinois Senate confirmation.

Ryan took office in January 1999, and Blagojevich was forced out of office on Jan. 29.

If Madigan’s plan becomes law, those officials would have to leave their jobs within 60 days. The governor would have the authority to make temporary appointments to fill the posts, and he could later nominate or employ one of the fired officials.

State Capitol Bureau

* * *

Me again. Wow, 3,000 employees — that’s a lot of people. Does Speaker Madigan have enough children to fill all those positions? Just wondering.

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Isn’t there some state he doesn’t live in where Keyes could run for public office?

Perennial political candidate Alan Keyes eagerly awaits being thrown into jail for his planned protest of President Obama’s speech at the University of Notre Dame.

To the chagrin of many Roman Catholics, Obama will receive an honorary degree and deliver the commencement address May 17 at Notre Dame. Opponents believe Obama’s stance on abortion, which contradicts Catholic Church teaching, makes him unfit to make an appearance at the premier Catholic institution in the United States.

Taken at face value, this argument has merit. No university is more closely linked to the American Catholic identity than is Notre Dame. So how could the most Catholic of Catholic schools even consider inviting someone known for his radical views supporting abortion?

The trick is Notre Dame has a tradition of inviting presidents in their first year in office to deliver the commencement address. It would be one thing if the university selected Obama to the exclusion of all other presidents.

But this isn’t the case. Most presidents going back to Jimmy Carter have spoken at Notre Dame (Bill Clinton did not speak there, but I believe he was invited). For good or ill, the university is more focused on the fact that these people are serving as president, not necessarily on their political stances on moral issues.

Enter Alan Keyes. He is more than willing to be imprisoned while standing up for his beliefs in the sanctity of human life.

And he’s also not adversed, by the way, to drumming up as much publicity as possible.

Terry Randall, who founded Operation Rescue, was arrested a few days ago on the Notre Dame campus and charged with trespassing. So Keyes has made “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” his theme as he plans to go to the university and be arrested, if it comes to that.

“I will go to South Bend. I will step foot on the Notre Dame campus to lift up the standard that protects the life of the innocent children of this and every generation,” Keyes writes in a statement he issued on his planned protest. “I will do it all day and every day from now until the Master comes if need be, though it mean I shall be housed every day in the prison house of lies and injustice that Obama, [Notre Dame President the Rev. John] Jenkins and their minions now mean to construct for those who will never be still and silent in the face of their mockery of God and justice, their celebration of evil.

“If this be trespass, then forgive us our trespasses and join us in trespassing until the South Bend jail is filled to overflowing with witnesses to truth; filled beyond capacity; filled until we break the most onerous shackles of all — the ones that bind the heart and mind to evil and our nation to the path of its destruction.”

Amen!

Now, I don’t mean to dismiss the passion that those in the pro-life movement share in their commitment to end legalized abortion. And I’m not attempting to trivialize how replused they are with Obama’s extreme views on the issue.

A civilized society most certainly should be able to devise a better way to address concerns for reproductive rights than through abortion. And that our nation’s leader holds views that are looked upon as extreme by so many people is disturbing.

But the excessive hand-wringing over Obama coming to Notre Dame is unwarranted. Obama is not coming to Notre Dame to perform an abortion, and promoting abortion I’m sure will not be the topic of his speech.

He has been invited to Notre Dame as the president of our nation, just as all presidents have before him going back many years. If Obama is unfit to speak at a Catholic university because his views on abortion oppose Catholic teaching, where were all the protests over former President George W. Bush when he spoke at Notre Dame in 2001?

Bush holds views on the death penalty that violate Catholic teaching, which states that capital punishment should be used only when there is no other way to protect society from a murderer (locking up the murderer for life suffices in this sense, so the death penalty would no longer be necessary). But I can’t find anything that discusses the massive protests from outraged Catholics against Bush’s trip tp Notre Dame. Do they not care about the church’s teaching on capital punishment?

In fact, Keyes views the death penalty very similarly to Bush — and Keyes is a Catholic. So should I urge Catholics to protest the presence of Alan Keyes on the Notre Dame campus because of his immoral stance on capital punishment? He’s criticizing Notre Dame officials for honoring a man who’s views clash with Catholic teaching, and yet Keyes obviously doesn’t see eye to eye with the church on the death penalty.

The Catholic teaching on this subject speaks about a “consistent ethic” regarding the dignity of all human life. As he once served as the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote about this doctrine as being a “seamless garment” — the value we place on the life of the unborn is equal to that we place on the life of all other people.

Many member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, opposed Carter’s candidacy for president in 1976 on the grounds that he supported abortion rights. Then in the early 1980s, the group drafted a document rather critical of the Reagan administration’s build-up of nuclear arms.

So the Catholic teaching on these issues isn’t straight “liberal” or “conservative.” Notre Dame would have a difficult time finding a U.S. president who didn’t oppose Catholic teaching in some way, so it should have a policy of inviting all of them regardless of specific views or none at all.

I don’t doubt that Keyes feels very deeply about having abortion banned, and I respect his commitment to this cause. But I can’t help think this is largely a publicity stunt for Keyes as it has no chance of altering our nation’s abortion policies. If I were a Catholic involved with this issue, I’d feel as though people like Keyes were taking advantage of the situation for their own self-aggrandizement rather than as a way to advance the cause of respect for human life.

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J.Lew to showcase his comedic talents at Arcada Theatre this weekend

I could hardy believe my eyes when I read about this in one of my company’s newspapers last week.

Jerry Lewis — the King of Comedy — will appear live on-stage at 8 p.m. this Saturday at the Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St. in St. Charles. All I can say is, “My dribble glass runneth over!”

“Comedian and award-winning actor, producer, writer, director and singer Jerry Lewis performs live on-stage at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles,” the item in our newspaper reads. “Known for his funny faces, telethons and dedicated fan base in France, Lewis’ brand of goofball comedy predates Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell by a half-century. Don’t miss your chance to see this trailblazing comedian who got his start in a comic duo with the late icon Dean Martin.”

Tickets range from $59 to $85. For more information, call Onesti Entertainment at (630) 587-8400 or visit http://www.oshows.com.

I already have “my people” working on a way I can score an interview with J.Lew while he’s in the Chicago area. That truly would be a major feather in my cap, and I would be the envy of my colleagues and friends. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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Sam Adams Alliance, Illinois Review to offer workshop on blogging, new media

“Bloggers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your obscurity.”

OK, that wasn’t the wittiest paraphrase of the old socialist war cry. But it seemed like an opportune way to transition from May Day to an upcoming conference on blogging and new media.

The Sam Adams Alliance and Illinois Review will present the Illinois Blogger Meet-up and SamSphere from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, May 8, at Carlucci Restaurant, 1801 Butterfield Road in Downers Grove. The workshop will offer advice about how to improve the effectiveness of your blog and allow bloggers to network with each other.

“New media technology is becoming increasingly important to our jobs as responsible citizens. The work bloggers, wiki editors and social media participants are doing is important to promote government transparency and to draw in more liberty-minded activists and citizen leaders,” according to information in an e-mail I received after registering for the event. “In an effort to build relationships, the above mentioned sponsors have partnered with the Sam Adams Alliance to present Illinois Blogger Meetup & SamSphere — a one-day event aimed at helping selected political bloggers network with each other and build a stronger community. This event is designed to bring activists of all sorts together to find out where their missions and goals align and create a community of liberty-oriented activists who will work together to amplify the pro-liberty message online and offline.”

The workshop will feature investigative journalist Trent Siebert, who operates the Web site Texas Watchdog as well as the online TV program “TrentTV.” Registration for the event is $15 (the workshop is free for bloggers, which will include lunch).

“This SamSphere is going to have exciting panels on new media versus old media, new media’s applications to the political atmosphere, investigative reporting training, campaign new media strategies, social media and community development,” John Connors from the Sam Adams Alliance told me in his e-mail.

Connors said the groups have had a great response to the publicity they’ve given to the event, and there may be a few seats left for people interested in attending. Click here to register for the workshop. If you can secure a spot, I look forward to seeing you there next week.

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