Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are Rauner/Edgar alike on taxes?

It was the 1994 election cycle in Illinois when Gov. Jim Edgar blasted (and whomped all over) Democratic opponent Dawn Clark Netsch for her proposal to shift public education funding from local property taxes to state income taxes.

It would result in significant tax hikes, Edgar said. Netsch would wind up harming the populace of Illinois. Just as current Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner is claiming Gov. Pat Quinn will do with his desire to have the state income tax remain at a higher level -- rather than revert back to the levels of old.

RAUNER WANTS TO think this single issue will result in Illinois voters dumping Quinn come Nov. 4. He's spending millions to ensure that thought gets pumped into the mindset of the electorate.

There's just one thing to contemplate. A few years after lambasting Netsch, Edgar tried unsuccessfully to implement a state education funding reform proposal that many political observers said was identical to Netsch's rhetoric.

History seems to be repeating itself in this election cycle. For Rauner spoke with the Chicago Tribune, which reported Thursday that he says the idea of a sudden decrease in the state income tax (the concept that he's trying to peddle to ideologically-minded voters) isn't going to happen.

He told the newspaper that the bottom line isn't getting back to 3 percent for an income tax (it has been 5 percent in recent years), but is now creating a more business-friendly climate in Illinois.

THAT WILL INCLUDE some sort of cut. But it might not be the full cut that some people are being led to believe is their birthright.

The part of the Tribune report that caught my attention was the concept that the final tax rate is going to wind up being negotiated by Rauner with the General Assembly.

Does Rauner himself realize that the concept he's peddling to voters of an income tax rate restoration is not realistic, and probably dangerous to the financial status of Illinois?

The state has obligations, and is going to need the revenue to meet them. There's just no getting around that. And whether one likes the idea of the higher income tax rate, there is a sense that Quinn is telling us the ugly truth when saying it needs to remain in place.

SO WHAT SHOULD we think of Rauner? I'm not about to call him a liar!

More a political opportunist. Making statements that sound good in their simplicity for people who can't stand the idea that government isn't simple. The kind of people for whom details are what is wrong with government officials.

Maybe those individuals will become disenchanted with Rauner. Only he's hoping it doesn't happen for another year, by which time he's entrenched in office and has until early 2019 to get something done.

But keep in mind that the rest of Illinois government is going to remain partisan to the Democratic Party. For the Legislature itself remains Dem-leaning and is not likely to change.

REPUBLICANS ARE PUTTING so little effort into the campaigns of other candidates running for office in this year's election cycle that Illinois will still have a Democratic-leaning government structure.

The truth is that Rauner, the candidate, is one of those business executives whose ego would like to have a political office in his life's story, and he thinks he can be the CEO of Illinois government.

Perhaps he thinks the Legislature is the equivalent of a board of directors put in place to rubber-stamp his decisions. Which just isn't going to be the case. Perhaps he's watched too much of the City Council and the way it kow-tows to the mayor?

It isn't going to happen on the Springfield scene anytime soon. Which makes me wonder if the day will come that people will ponder a Quinn defeat this year the same way they wonder what could have been if Netsch could have had an adequate campaign fund to fight back against Edgar's allegations.

THEN AGAIN, QUINN has the campaign fund to get his message out, even though he will get outspent by Rauner's personal contributions -- along with the millions coming from business interests who want a governor who will kneel before their desires.

It's not like a Rauner victory is really going to result in a sudden drop in the income tax, the way the ideologues fantasize about.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No weather-related complaints here!

I don't want to hear any complaints from people concerning the weather.

I'm talking about the fact that it is expected to be hot Tuesday. Temperatures in the 90s, with other factors in play that make it feel more like 100 degrees.


But I can't help but find it refreshing. Because I still recall Jan. 6 and those other days early in 2014 when we got hit with Arctic-like temperatures. That was cold. And messy with the frozen snowfall.

Besides, this is summertime in Chicago. It's supposed to get hot this time of year.

Not that I objected to the cool breezes of recent days. They were relaxing. But Tuesday's heat blast across the Midwestern U.S. seems more like a jolt of reality.

THAT, AND THE fact that Chicago has two ball clubs with losing records, with a mediocre football team scheduled to begin training camp next week, means that all is right with the world in the Second City.

Which means instead of whining about the weather, we ought to focus our attention on learning to pronounce "Bourbonnais." Lest we want to sound buffoonish in our upcoming rants about the Bears.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pols put impersonal ‘personal’ touch to their pleas for our money

In my e-mail inbox Wednesday when I woke up were messages from “President Obama” and “Governor Quinn.”

No, I’m not trying to claim that I’m some sort of big-shot who has the ears of the top officials of federal and Illinois government. In the case of Quinn, I’m fairly sure that on the rare occasions he thinks of me, it’s as some sort of colossal pain-in-the-behind.

IT’S JUST THAT I couldn’t help but be amused by the latest fund-raising pitches made by both officials; resorting to that now-common political tactic of sending out these messages to make it feel like they’re reaching out to me, little old me, for a bit of help.

In the case of Quinn, he wants money to pay for his re-election bid against venture capitalist Bruce Rauner – who has millions of his own money to spend and has shown a willingness to use it in his crusade to get votes by convincing us that, “Pat Quinn is Evil!”

So Quinn is asking us for donations. Not much of one, actually. Only $5.

But that supposedly gets us entered into a raffle, with the result being two people will “win” the big prize of attending a Chicago White Sox game with Quinn – who himself is a season-ticket holder, but insists on maintaining a man-of-the-people image by having his seats in the upper deck that causes so much derision for U.S. Cellular Field.

A BALLGAME WITH the guv. While the rest of us chip in those dinky donations that add up to significant amounts of money for Quinn to campaign against Rauner.

Personally, the thought of a political ballgame isn’t that thrilling. Many years ago, I accompanied then-Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to what was then-New Comiskey Park, and had her turn on me during a lull in the game to point out past stories I had written that she thought were snotty in tone.

There also was a time about a decade ago when I went to a rare weekday afternoon White Sox game, and encountered a legislative chief of staff in the beer line, former state Senate President Phil Rock mingling with the crowd, and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan relieving himself (along with many other fans) following the ballgame.

So a hot dog with the governor? Actually, I view baseball as something to follow to get away from the nonsense of the political world (although the story behind the construction of U.S. Cellular Field is the ultimate commingling of the two).

ALTHOUGH IT’S REALLY not about baseball. It’s about money. It’s meant to be a different pitch to get people to dig into their wallets for political purposes.

Just like the president is doing. Only he’s not offering to take anyone out to the ballpark. He’s trying to stir up resentment among the public to the lawsuit that Republicans in Congress want to file against Obama – contending that he’s violating all sense of decency by trying to go around their desires by using executive authority powers.

Considering that Congress, because of the Republican House of Representatives majority, is deliberately stalling so many issues, a part of me wonders if a more legitimate lawsuit would be to sue GOPers for governmental inactivity.

But in recent days, I have been getting repeated e-mails bearing the names of assorted Democratic Party operatives and officials (including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who the Washington Post reported Wednesday was talking about how she has dreams of retaking control of the House come the Nov. 4 elections) asking for money, telling me how House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will win and cause irrevocable harm unless I kick in my money for the cause.

AND ON WEDNESDAY came the similar, almost identical, message in the name of the president himself.

The bottom line? I didn’t give Quinn my $5. Nor did I make the $3 donation desired by Democrats (who like to come up with daily causes, it seems, for me to kick in my three bucks).

Partly because I don’t donate money to political people or sign their petitions. Partly because I’m cheap.

And partly because I did what I suspect many real people wish they could do to much of the politically partisan rhetoric they hear these days – I hit the “delete” button.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Will voters decide dumping Rahm more important than keeping Quinn?

51-39. 45-36.

Those are the latest poll results in the two big elections coming in the next few months.

THE FIRST IS the margin by which Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner leads Gov. Pat Quinn in a study by the We Ask America polling group.

The latter are poll results by the same group of the 2015 mayoral election – if it turns out to be a head-to-head race between Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

I’m sure there are those individuals who will want to view those results as evidence of a “throw the bums out” mentality at work. Although I’m not convinced. I suspect that most people who are displeased about the current political state are more focused about dumping Rahm than anything else.

It is that sense of apathy toward Illinois government that may result in the Democratic vote of Chicago not turning out in strong-enough numbers to help Quinn come Nov. 4.

SUCH A STRONG “blue” state as Illinois would not be giving a Republican an 11-point lead IF Chicago voters cared. It is the reason William Brady was able to dominate all of Illinois outside of Cook County, yet still lose the 2010 election cycle for governor.

Chicago cared enough about the thought of a Brady victory that they turned out in force for Quinn. It is the reason Quinn is engaging in so many campaign attacks to make Rauner out to be a rich guy with nothing in common with real Chicagoans.

The one about him paying ridiculously-high prices for a parking space near his Near North Side residence is something that nobody outside of that neighborhood will comprehend. But is it enough to stir up resentment and a strong voter turnout?

I think many Chicago voters are getting swept up with the sentiment of trying to find a replacement for Rahm Emanuel.

HENCE, THE LATEST poll that shows Emanuel losing not only to Lewis, but to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Which is interesting in that neither one is actually a candidate for the February mayoral election, although the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Lewis has created an unofficial exploratory committee and is starting to take some of the other actions that a real candidate would take.

Although Emanuel has such a large financial advantage and the opposition has so little time to try to catch up that he still ought to be considered the electoral favorite. Which is why she made the political announcement Tuesday that some people are determined to disbelieve -- she's NOT running for mayor next year!

That same We Ask America poll showed that the one officially-declared challenger to Emanuel – former Alderman and county official Robert Shaw – would get his butt kicked by Rahm. 48 percent to 30 percent, to be exact.

THERE’S ALSO THE fact that the poll treats the mayoral campaign as a head-to-head race, instead of Rahm against several opponents who will cut into his opposition. That just isn’t real.

I suspect that the large leads for Lewis and Preckwinkle are based on the idea that they look better than the incumbent, at least until we start seeing them up close. Then we’ll discover their political warts and Emanuel’s money will make sure every one of them gets analyzed and exaggerated.

Just as Rauner is trying to use his personal fortune to pay for a campaign that repeatedly pumps into our heads the concept of “Pat Quinn is Evil.” That, and “Don’t Look Too Closely at My Flaws.”

Will people care about the long-term care homes owned by a Rauner-controlled company whose care was less-than-stellar? As reported by the Lee Enterprises chain of newspapers that includes the Times of Northwest Indiana? Or will it come across as too technical and cause potential voters’ eyes to glaze over?

IT JUST MAKES me wonder how will voters perceive things if Rauner winds up winning in November, then Emanuel prevails in February (or in an April run-off election)?

Why do I suspect that the combination of political friends Rahm and Rauner would wind up putting the ultimate fright into those individuals who are clamoring for radical change?!?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Abreu vs. Puig would have been worthy

Let me state up-front that I could care less about the Home Run Derby.

The whole exhibition of watching baseball sluggers take their best whacks against batting practice pitchers to see who can hit the most balls into the outfield seats just isn't that thrilling.

THERE IS SOMETHING intriguing about going to a ballgame and catching the pre-game ritual of watching a hitter try to gain his timing so that he doesn't go into the game and get skunked by real-life pitching.

It can be relaxing. It can even be entertaining in its own way. But it's not the whole show.

Even though EPSN would have you think it was from the spectacle they broadcast Monday night, and which fans packed their way into Minneapolis' Target Field. I couldn't bear to watch it, even though I'm a baseball fan and think the All-Star Game to be played Tuesday is a fun ritual.

But listening to broadcaster Art Berman go on and on about how baseball "history" was being made by the phony spectacle? That was too much to have to bear.

NOW HAVING SAID all that, I have to admit that a part of me kind of wishes that Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu had chosen to participate in the event.

For what it's worth, Abreu is the Cuban star who defected and wound up with the White Sox, and is turning into the very ballplayer the Chicago Cubs wish they had -- someone to entertain the fans with on-field antics while the team rebuilds.

Abreu is also the American League leader in home runs (29, thus far) and is near the top of the league with 73 runs batted in.

But Abreu is of the type of ballplayer who seems to think that the whole Home Run Derby exhibition will throw off his swing and wind up hurting the White Sox in the long run.

IT MAY BE true. Although there's a part of me who thinks such ballplayers are taking themselves way too seriously, and THAT is what will wind up hurting the ball club.

It would have been interesting to see Abreu take his cuts and try to show off the power on a national stage that White Sox fans have been seeing thus far this season.

That kind of attention might have even been useful to the White Sox organization. And it would have made for an entertaining spectacle.

Although there's also the part of me that would have liked to have seen such a show become a showdown between Abreu and Yasiel Puig -- the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger who also is a Cuban defector of sorts.

AND YES, THE two men do know each other. Both of them played for Cienfuegos in the Cuban League before they decided to flee for bigger and better money playing beisbol in the United States.

I'm sure any personal touch could have added to the event's flavor.

Instead, we'll likely have to settle for seeing Abreu get a lone at-bat at some point in the game to be played Tuesday. Perhaps we'll get lucky and it will be a hit that has a role in an American League victory.

Although I suspect the fact that another White Sox All-Star, Alexi Ramirez, is complaining of a bad back. Because since I suspect this year's All-Star game is meant to be a Derek Jeter farewell show, it isn't likely that a fellow shortstop is going to get many moments.

THEN AGAIN, I suppose White Sox fans could face the predicament of the Cubs -- whose "star" pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, got elected to the team right after the Cubs traded him away.

Of course, the American League-best Oakland Athletics (59 victories thus far this season) probably have better use for a worthwhile pitcher than the Cubs do.

For anyone can give up the home runs flying over the ivy and out of Wrigley Field on any given day!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Congress opposition to Obama reeks of memories of 'Council Wars' of old

I've stumbled across commentary from the conservative ideologues who claim that the latest controversy concerning children from Latin American nations showing up at the U.S./Mexico border is the ultimate evidence of President Barack Obama's ineptitude in office.

They say his failure to offer up a quick, and definitive, solution to this problem is a sign that he's weak and should never have been elected to office.

OF COURSE, WHAT doesn't get said in these instances is that the solution they want probably is just one step removed from armed troops at the border -- prepared to do a re-enactment of the National Guard at Kent State University if those miniature foreign freaks comes too close to the border.

Obama's solution, thus far, was to ask earlier this week for some $3.7 billion (yes, "B" for billions) for funds that would be used to cover the cost of humanitarian aid for this flood of children headed for the United States.

It might well turn out that most of the kids will be turned away, sent back home, once they are checked out here. A few might find legitimate places to stay in this country.

But that goes counter to the ideologue way of thinking, which wants to view these young people as "illegals in training" (or maybe, illegal-ites) for whom there must be a hard-line approach to giving them the boot.

YES, I'M REFERRING to those nitwits who spent their Independence Day gathered at the border in Murrietta, Calif., chanting "U.S.A., U.S.A." and "Go Home!" at busloads of kids who were arriving to be processed.

In short, to determine the responsible approach for dealing with them. Instead, nonsense rants shouted down common sense, and those busloads were intimidated away from Border Patrol processing centers.

These are the same people who are getting grouchy at the thought of Obama citing the need for some federal funds to cover the cost of determining what needs to be done with the situation.

These also are likely the same people who are wetting their pants with glee at the thought of one-time Vice Presidential dreamer Sarah Palin going around using the "I" word (as in "impeachment") to talk about the president.

FOR SOME PEOPLE, that is the reason they're excited about the Nov. 4 election cycle. Keep control of the House of Representatives, and gain a large-enough caucus in the Senate that you can dominate activity there, and suddenly the thought of "impeachment" isn't a fantasy.

The nutjobs of our society will be able to actually take a partisan vote so they can tag the Obama legacy with the thought of removal from office. They couldn't beat him at the polling place, so they're going all out in their ideological fantasies.

If there is one thing Obama is guilty of, it's that he hasn't dealt harshly enough with these people. Just as how he has gone this far into his presidency without trying to do anything other than give lip service to serious immigration reform.

Does Obama really have a blind eye as to how intensely certain elements of our society despise his ideals and are determined to oppose everything that the people who voted him into office wanted (and expected) from him?

AS FOR THE new round of funding, it sounds like a tremendous amount for those who put their entire focus on municipal activity and state officials -- and expect federal representatives to do what they are told by the local types who usually have no comprehension of the big picture.

But we're talking about funds that will go for expansion of the Border Patrol and other operations -- including the hiring of more immigration judges and conducting of aerial surveillance.

Operations that the ideological types would usually be the first to call for. Except they don't want a certain president to wind up getting credit for handling a situation (some 52,000 minors arriving in this country without any adult supervision during the past three weeks) in a responsible manner.

Which is why we get the trash talk, and the reluctance from Republicans in Congress to back this latest round of funding.

IT REALLY IS all so reminiscent of the "Council Wars" we in Chicago experienced some three decades ago in the City Council -- when an opposition determined to take down then-Mayor Harold Washington was willing to stall the city government into submission.

Short-term harm to government was justified by the thought that a chief executive of their own preference could fix the problems they were causing for partisan and racial reasons.

Perhaps we need to keep that in mind as we watch the activity toward Obama in Washington in coming months.


Monday, July 7, 2014

What should we think about safety?

We’re not safer. We’re just crummier shots.”

That was the  observation I heard from a Jewel bagboy when, while bagging some grocery items I was buying, he took a glimpse of the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times I purchased.

 THAT FRONT PAGE  gave us the headline “Under The Gun,” and teased a story about how the number of people killed in Chicago this year thus far is less than what it was last year.


 The number of shooting incidents that have occurred this year compared to last is on the rise.

 Specifically, 5 percent fewer people killed but 8 percent more incidents involving gunfire, according to the Sun-Times for the first six months of 2014 compared to the first half of 2013 – which was a way-above-average year.

 ONE IN WHICH people would have to look back into Chicago history to find a period that was more violent than ’13 was for the Second City.

 Now I’m not about to take seriously the views of a guy who managed to avoid crushing my grocery items while putting them into plastic bags. I’m well aware that he was trying to make a joke while engaging in some small talk to keep himself from being bored.

 He also speculated about how wonderful Jose Abreu was for the Chicago White Sox this year. Is he a top-notch sports commentator?

 Besides, a part of me wanted to retort as a gag that perhaps that the statistical combination  was evidence of the advancement of medical techniques – we’re saving more lives of gunshot victims.

 THE REALITY IS more a matter of  the fact that there are certain parts of  Chicago that have become so violent – and so isolated from the rest of the city that it is way too easy to ignore what happens there.

 While also looking at the fact that there are certain neighborhoods in Chicago where violence, homicide and crime in general is so low that some of us want to believe all the crime stats must be some sort of lie!

 Which is a shame because, in some ways, Chicago is no better or stronger than its weakest, most violent neighborhoods,

 We can brag about the Gold Coast (although my memory of a quarter-century of news stories I wrote about includes people who were shot and killed there too) and try to pretend that Englewood is an alien land.

 BUT THAT KIND of  rhetoric just makes us all seem foolish. Besides, even if the number of people killed is on the decline, there’s still the reality that even one homicide is one too many.

 And to the people directly impacted by the list of the deceased, that one is all that matters. Too many families get devastated, then forgotten about in the mess of murder statistics that are being compiled.

 The sad part is that just the other day, I stumbled across some four-decade-old reruns of “Good Times,” the show where Jimmie Walker tried to become the clown prince of the Chicago ghetto and public housing.

 The episodes I saw were the two-part tale of where Walker’s “J.J.” character was shot by a streetgang member who was trying to recruit/pressure him into joining the “gang.”

 FOR A COMEDY television series, it was way too real. For J.J.’s gunman, gang leader “Mad Dog” wound up getting probation for the shooting because there was no space available to hold him either at the youth home in St. Charles or at the Cook County Jail.

 Those are a set of circumstances that were all too real in 1970s Chicago, and remain true today. How many “Mad Dogs” (his real name was supposed to be “Cleon”) are being produced by the rising numbers of shootings occurring in Chicago?

And isn’t that a more significant problem than however many homicides are occurring? You want numbers, check out 11, 25 and .312 – the home run total, runs batted in and batting average for Abreu during the month of June.

 They’re less depressing to think about.