Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Keeping busy in, and out of, the Capitol on everything except a state budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner got his share of criticism Monday for traveling to Iowa, of all places, to partake in an event that critics say cannot go anywhere because of the lack of a balanced budget for state government.

Yes, Rauner attended an event with his gubernatorial counterpart from Iowa – the two of whom were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge along Interstate 74 that crosses over the Mississippi River.

WHICH MEANS THAT it is at a point where it connects the two states. Making it relevant for Rauner to be on hand in Bettendorf, Iowa – a part of the Quad Cities metro area that comprises western Illinois cities of Rock Island and Moline.

He’s getting blasted by Democratic political operatives who say it is wrong for the governor himself to not be at the Capitol at a time when the two sides of state government are supposed to be doing whatever is necessary to avoid having the current fiscal year end Friday without a budget.

But much of that rhetoric is inspired by the fact that Rauner himself is going about trashing Dems for not blindly going along with the proposal Republican operatives put forth to settle the budget quandary.

Meaning this trash talk is about as silly and irrelevant as his own trash talk.

A WHOLE LOT of nothingness being spewed in hopes that something sticks – although I suspect that anybody with intelligence will see it all as a whole lot of nonsense.

Because I couldn’t help but be amazed, and somewhat repulsed, by learning of the activity that was taking place at the Capitol, where it seems the Illinois House of Representatives voted to approve a resolution urging Illinois to join 12 other states and Puerto Rico to support the U.S. Climate Alliance.

That would call for Illinois to support goals of the Paris Climate Agreement; a set of standards meant to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

How nice and noble, and perhaps the Sierra Club was well-intentioned in issuing a statement praising the Illinois House for taking their action. Although I can’t help but see it as a distraction from what ought to be the sole purpose of the Legislature being in session this week.

GET THAT DAMNED budget approved so that our state can go back to operating in as normal a manner as possible. Even with a budget in place, it will take time – possibly years – before the state’s finances are back in proper working order.

But so long as we’re in an operating mode in which some agencies and programs can’t do a thing while others are gobbling up the state taxpayer dollars because they have federal court orders requiring them to continue, our spending truly is out-of-whack.

Similar to the person who blows their rent money on a night out on the town, or perhaps on a load of illicit drugs. Then again, perhaps we’d need to be drugged out of our minds to think that the status quo that has developed during the past two years is in any way acceptable.

Or that worrying about the U.S. Climate Alliance in the form of a non-binding resolution is in any way a useful means of spending time. It’s about as silly as Rauner’s Iowa trip – although I suppose it could be argued that getting him out of the way for a day gave legislators of both political parties a chance to do some serious work.

WHICH IT SEEMS they chose not to do.

I have no doubt we’re going to see Friday come and go, and the new state Fiscal year 2018 will begin and we’ll have a third year of governmental inertia with regards to our finances.

All of this is creating a mood of unpleasantness – the Cook Government Report said last week that Rauner is the “most vulnerable” incumbent seeking re-election in 2018 and declared the Illinois governor campaign to be a “toss-up” instead of “leaning Republican.”

Although the real nightmare scenario may well be that we’ll get a campaign season full of rhetorical nonsense, followed in November 2018 with no significant shift, and FOUR MORE YEARS of the same partisan trash!

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Taking pride in not going to parades?

I didn’t go to the Pride Parade held Sunday. I’m also likely to ignore the slew of parades that will take place in a couple of weeks related to the upcoming Independence Day holiday.
The parade route I chose to ignore

None of this is intended as a political statement of any sorts. It’s actually that I just don’t get any enjoyment from the idea of a parade – regardless of what the event or cause is that’s being celebrated.

SOME PEOPLE LIKE the spectacle. They take a certain sense of glee from the largesse put on display to celebrate whatever cause happens to be the reason for a parade.

Personally, I find it to be a lot of noise and racket and standing around doing nothing while other people go marching by.

And quite frankly, if you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all. There’s no reason to relive the experience.

So I didn’t feel compelled to head up to Boystown – that sub-neighborhood that combines with the Wrigleyville set (gay people wishing to live openly combined with Chicago Cubbies fans) to make the Lake View neighborhood one of Chicago’s most unique places to be.

NOR AM I eager to see what many may view as the anti-Pride parade – an Independence Day holiday filled with pomp and circumstance and lots of images of fireworks and explosions and much right-wing rhetoric.

Even though personally, I find much of that rhetoric to be a skewed view of what our nation is supposed to be about. In fact, a part of me thinks that the public spectacle that was the Pride Parade is about as “American” as we can get in the 21st Century.

Even though with all its kitschy value of watching Chicago’s gay community come out into the open will bother some. That very “openness” and willingness to express oneself publicly is most definitely what we as a people are supposed to be about.

Although I’m sure the type of people who comprised the 46 percent of the electorate that voted for Donald Trump to be president are amongst those who were most offended by Sunday and can’t wait until July 4 so they can present their own bombastic view of what they think we, the people, are truly all about.
Is "believing" about fireworks explosions?

NOW I KNOW there are people who claim the Pride Parade is something that everybody ought to experience firsthand – if only for the kitsch that can provide many a laugh for the public.

It certainly isn’t any worse than the garishness of red, white and blue that we’ll be subjected to in nine more days – all in the name of “patriotism” and “America.” Although will be espousing that old hard-hat line of logic – “Love it, or leave it!”

Or, “Shut up, and Do what you’re told!”

Does that make Independence Day the anti-Pride parade for some types of people in our society – the ones who wish we were still back in the 19th Century? Which is ironic, since many of these people are the same ones who criticize certain elements of the Islamic religious faith for refusing to accept the realities of modern-day life.

ARE THEY JUST jealous that our society isn’t still behind the times?

For those who are now ranting and raging about what I’m full of for bad-mouthing Independence Day, keep in mind it’s the garishness that I find mind-numbing.

I have always thought the upcoming Independence Day ought to be the most solemn of occasions -- one in which we respect the ideals of our national existence. Instead, we’re usually more interested in seeing who can light off the most obnoxious explosions into the sky – to the point where I know my father’s dog, Rocco, will wind up barking up a storm come the night of July 4 as he’ll be freaked out by all the, “bombs bursting in (the) air.”

So I’m not into the parade scene, which seems to me to be a whole lot of loitering by the masses. Except nobody felt compelled to call the cops to complain – unless the fireworks being set off by neighborhood kids get real obnoxious next week!

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

EXTRA: Buehrle, a Sox loss, and now we wait for the Cubano rebuild

The Chicago White Sox drew what could wind up being their best crowd of 2017, what with the ceremonies paying tribute to Mark Buehrle – the one-time ace pitcher who on Saturday had his jersey number 56 retired.
 
From back when he was a Sox 'kid'

No one else playing for the White Sox will ever wear number 56, and Bryan Ward (whose lone victory as a major league pitcher came with the White Sox in 1998 while wearing “56” on his back) will now fade away into history,

YES, THE WHITE Sox’ game against the Oakland Athletics was a capacity crowd, with most of those fans eager to celebrate the memory of Buehrle – who pitched for the White Sox from 2000-11 and was a part of the division-winning Sox teams of ’00 and ’08 and also the ball club of ’05 that gave Chicago its first World Series victory of the 21st Century.
 
Many career highlights for Buehrle

White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf couldn’t help but joke about the crowd, quipping to Buehrle that he might not be aware Sox games don’t average 40,000-plus paying customers per game (actually 38,618, to be exact).

There also was the ball club’s gag after Buehrle’s daughter, Brooklyn, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the team pointed out that her toss was much faster and harder than what Buehrle himself threw at the peak of his pitching prowess.

Then again, Buehrle was always the evidence that successful pitching was not all about throwing balls in excess of 100 mph. Heck, Buehrle himself was the guy who got cut by his high school baseball team in the St. Louis suburbs, was a 38th round draft choice by the White Sox in 1998 and was supposed to be a “roster-filler type” guy who plays a couple of years in the minor leagues before returning home to get on with his life.
No longer White Sox' "No. 56"
LATER HE BECAME one of the "kids" whom White Sox marketing referred to in their "the Kids Can Play" advertising appeal, although he eventually became the reliable workhorse of a pitching staff who worked at a quick pace, making it possible for ballgames to be played cleanly and crisply in just over two hours per game.

As opposed to the just over three hours it took for the White Sox to get through their 10-2 loss to the Athletics on Saturday.
Will No. 79 someday be retired for Abreu?

One where starting pitcher James Shields and five other pitchers had to be used by the White Sox to get through a game to do the duty that Buehrle used to be capable of doing all by himself with regularity.

How far the ball club has fallen – and how rapidly we need the great rebuild and the White Sox’ version of a “Cuban revolution” to be led by current Sox slugger Jose Abreu to occur so as to restore baseball respectability to the Sout’ Side.

  -30-

All it takes is one to create a problem

I don’t doubt that most people give little thought to the concept of Asian Carp.
 
Not far from Great Lakes, where Calumets converge

For all I know, on the occasions they do think about it, they dismiss it as some sort of artificial emergency situation created by intellectual types who have way too much free time on their hands – perhaps similar to the doomsday we were supposed to face on Jan. 1, 2000.

IT DOESN’T SEEM that many people are getting all that worked up over the concept of the Asian Carp – a species of fish that Mother Nature never really intended to exist in this part of the globe. Maybe they think it's what you get when you order Chinese carry-out!

So the fact that scientists inadvertently let them loose into the Mississippi River and they have steadily worked their way upstream is a problem that those scientists get all worked up over. But which elicits a great big “Yawn!” from the bulk of us.

As things turn out, the Asian Carp have worked their way up the river and into Illinois – where they’re alive and thriving in the Illinois River. I recently stumbled across a news report that said the waters around Havana, Ill., have more Asian Carp than any other place on Earth.

Now why should we care about the Carp?

THE FACT IS that the eat everything in sight. They devour all the natural plant life that fish nature intended to be in the area would feed off of. As a result, the types of fish who “belong” wind up being threatened.
 
Lake Calumet a direct path to Lake Michigan

The potential exists for nature to be erased, and replaced with something glutton-ish that was never meant to be!

Back in 2010, an Asian Carp was actually pulled out of Lake Calumet – that isolated patch of area on Chicago’s far South Side that connects directly to Lake Michigan by the Calumet River.

And on Friday, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee said another Asian Carp was caught by a fisherman just south of the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam – which is near Lake Calumet – and clearly within the Chicago city limits.
 
ENVIRONMENTAL AND WILDLIFE types like to talk about those electronic gates they erected south of the city that supposedly kill off any Asian Carp that try to swim too close to Chicago or Lake Michigan. But it also seems at least two managed to figure out a way to get past.
 
Could the Carp someday swim past 95th St. bridge?

Which creates the possibility that many more also succeeded. For all we know, they have managed to get to Lake Michigan proper – and we just don’t know it yet. Or equally likely, they are going to continue to try and the day will come when we’ll have the Asian Carp feeding off the Great Lakes.

Now those who want to think of issues in a partisan way often want to place blame on the Asian Carp issue on Chicago itself. We are the city that back in the 19th Century created the connections between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

Those connections were a large part of the reason why Chicago became the dominant Midwestern city so much larger than places like Detroit, Milwaukee or St. Louis.

ARE WE SUPPOSED to wither away and cease to exist because others allowed the Mississippi River to become tainted by the Asian Carp?

Now I’m not about to offer up the solution to keeping the Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan. It seems we’re doing what we possibly can thus far, and this may wind up being an issue of how things can always go wrong.
Fact that area fenced off causes many to give Calumet lake little thought. All photographs by Gregory Tejeda

All I know is that this issue is one we all ought to be giving greater thought to, rather than thinking of it as something that is occurring down around that lake many of us never pay attention to.

For if we do wind up facing the day of devastation to the Great Lake upon which our city’s existence is so reliant, it won’t be as “ho-hum” an event as it was the day after Dec. 21, 2012 – when the world didn’t come to an end as the Mayans allegedly once predicted it would.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

EXTRA: Everybody’s spewing a load of bull in the land of Springpatch

Springpatch; it's that mythical place where Illinois political people live in their own little world and the concerns of the real people whom they’re supposed to be representing don’t seem to amount to much.
All gloomy and dank at the Statehouse these days as it was in this century-old postcard image

Springpatch. That’s the place where we wish we could avoid, yet it now is taking over the focal point of our state government operations all because of the nothingness that is occurring there.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY convened again in their “special session” – which former legislator-turned-Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey says  on his Facebook account "aren't very special at all" – for a whole lot of nothing toward trying to craft the operating budget that would allow state government to function properly.

We haven’t had one of those for nearly two full years – and based on what we’ve seen so far this week, there’s no reason to think we’re going to have one by next Friday (which is the final day of state fiscal 2017).

About the only thing that did get done Friday was the obligatory round of statements issued by the political partisan hacks who want us to blame “the other guy” for the whole lot of nothingness that is occurring.

Madigan, Cullerton continue to stall was the headline atop the Illinois Republican-issued statement, while da Dems claimed to be “deeply disappointed” that Republican leaders wouldn’t meet with them Friday “and work (with us) to advance a balanced budget.”

THE BULL EMANATING from the Statehouse Scene made me think for a second that we were in mid-August – the time of year when state officials focus attention on the Illinois State Fair and we get to smell the fragrant aroma of the assorted farm animals on the state fairgrounds.

So do I think that Senate Minority Leader Christine Ragodno and James Durkin of the Illinois House really created a sense of disappointment by not showing up to meet with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan or state Senate President John Cullerton?

No more than I believe the Republican rhetoric that Democrats are engaging in “sham hearings” by refusing to blindly vote for whatever the GOP tells them to do.

This is a problem that will require a true sense of political bipartisanship to resolve. Unfortunately, all we’re getting is some of the most intense partisan trash talk that has ever come from Springpatch.

IT’S NO WONDER that we’re getting such garbage from a place that brings to mind the lame old gag of naming the Illinois capital city in memory of the fictitious hometown from the old Lil’ Abner cartoons.

Because there are times I think our government officials have all the sense of a Shmoo.

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Nothing lives forever, except maybe in the ball fields of our memories

There are times it seems that Chicago White Sox fans will forevermore live off the memories of 2005, while Chicago Cubs fans are a determined batch to make us all think of 2016 as the GREATEST SEASON OF ALL TIME!!!, what with the World Series they actually managed to win that year.
 
'05 Sox now permanently in past

Yet nothing lasts forever. Both of those baseball seasons are most definitely in the past.

AND EVEN THOUGH some of us would like to have our memories overcome reality, we have to admit that while the championship flags will forevermore be displayed in Chicago, the winning is over.

At least for those of us who focus our attention on what is happening now.

I couldn’t help but be amused by the announcement that Kyle Schwarber, the Chicago Cubs hitter whose return from injury at season’s end gave the team a boost that may well be the factor in them beating Cleveland and winning the World Series, is going back to the minor leagues.

While Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman from Japan whose four-year stint playing baseball in the United States included his performance with the World Series-winning Sox (making him the first Japanese-born ballplayer on a U.S. championship team), is on his way out of baseball.

AS THINGS TURNED out, Iguchi’s U.S. baseball career also included stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres before he returned to Japan – where he resumed playing ball for the past decade.
 
'16 level of play a thing of the past?

He’s now with the Lotte Marines in Japan’s Pacific League, and in fact at age 42 is now the oldest player in the league. As things turned out, his joint Japan/U.S. career saw him get more than 2,000 base hits – making him one of only seven players to achieve that goal.

He’s a Japanese ballplayer who got a taste of U.S. baseball. Although to those of us in Chicago who enjoyed the first local team to win a World Series in this century, he’ll forever be more.

He’s virtually an honorary Chicagoan – that’s what happens when you become a crucial part of a local championship team whose importance goes beyond the .278 batting average with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases he garnered that year.
 
Can Kyle rejuvenate the way 'Mick' did?

TO THE CHICAGO Sout’ Side, he’s as big a name as Ichiro Suzuki – the Japanese star ballplayer who has been playing in this country for 17 seasons now and may well become the first ballplayer to get elected to the Halls of Fame celebrating baseball that exist in both countries.

But Iguchi is now gone, making him the final member of that ’05 White Sox team who was still going to the ballpark to play baseball and getting paid for the privilege. 2005 may be 12 years in the past, but it feels even longer away in the distance.

Then, there’s Schwarber, who got hurt early in 2016, recovered in time for the playoffs and World Series, and had the batting average over .400 and managed to get on base 10 of the 20 times he batted in the World Series.

But that was last year – as much a part of the past as that of Iguchi boosting the White Sox to victory. For 2017, he had a batting average of .171 and had struck out some 29 percent of the times he came to the plate.

THAT BATTING AVERAGE is worse than that of the famed Mario Mendoza, the 1970s-80s infielder who hit .215 for a career, and is considered to be the standard for how bad a hitter you can be PROVIDED you have other positive characteristics.
 
How bad can you hit/still play in Comiskey Park?

Not that it means Schwarber is finished in baseball – even though he’s now a member of the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League. I’m sure Cubs baseball people are hoping he becomes the equivalent of Mickey Mantle – who during his own rookie season of 1951 was sent back to the minor leagues by the New York Yankees following a slow start.

A couple of months of hot hitting (,361 batting average, 11 home runs and 50 runs batted in) and he returned to New York for 18 more years of Hall of Fame-quality play.

So what’s it going to be – Schwarber is the equivalent of “the Mick?” Or further evidence that talk of the Cubs’ dynasty was premature and that ’16 is just as much a memory as 2005?

  -30-

Thursday, June 22, 2017

EXTRA: What is Ill. government these days but a whole lot of nothingness

I suppose we could debate who is being more pig-headed (Gov. Bruce Rauner or Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) with regards to the daily operations of state government.
What WOULD Lincoln think of his home state

The governor clearly is trying to pressure the Democrats who run the General Assembly to shut up and do what he tells them to by expecting them to back the budget proposal he and the Republican minority of legislators have created on their own.

DEMOCRATS ARE CLEARLY taking the food they’re being force-fed during the ongoing "special session" and spitting it back in the GOP face, what with the legislative sessions they have held Wednesday and Thursday that barely lasted 20 or so minutes each – and included many no-shows, particularly amongst Senate Democrats who claim they already voted to pass a budget plan and it’s time for everybody else to get on board with them!

It means nothing is happening toward putting together a budget plan that would enable Illinois state government to operate semi-normally. Everybody is busy blaming everybody else for that whole lot of nothingness.

It means that we’re clearly headed for two full years without an operating budget. Nothing is likely to change between now and July 1 (which is the first day of the state’s Fiscal ’18).

The blame game will continue – and yes, it’s likely the Republican Party will continue to issue its daily statements as it has since Wednesday lambasting Democrats for causing problems by not doing what Rauner tells them to do.

IN SHORT, BEHAVING as though Democrats are actually the majority party that controls the legislative process – rather than a minority party with a loud mouth, but little influence.

Which, sadly to say, is what the Republican Party in Illinois has devolved to.

That, rather than anything Rod Blagojevich might have said or did, is what is likely to have Abraham Lincoln spinning over in his grave.

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