Saturday, April 25, 2015

How ugly will the legislative battle be?

I’m a fairly regular reader of the Capitol Fax website who got my chuckle Friday from their “Question of the Day.”

“Which happens first?” As in the release of former state Rep. Derrick Smith from the West Side; or the agreement by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly on a budget for state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT that is the fact that Smith is the legislator who earlier this week was sentenced to five months in prison on federal charges he accepted bribes.

Under the federal system, he’ll have to do 85 percent of that time. With five months, that means four-and-a-half months of real time served. He’ll get just a couple of weeks off for good behavior.

That means he’ll be a free man sometime in September. Probably right after Labor Day he will have paid his debt to society, and we can go back to forgetting we ever knew who he was (his stint in Springfield before getting caught in a criminal investigation really was that short).

But the partisan political differences between Gov. Bruce Rauner (the man who is supposedly liked by 40 percent of the electorate and disliked by 36 percent – with the remainder clueless about what to think) and the Democratic-leaning state Legislature are so large that it is likely Smith will be free and there still won’t be a budget in place.

EVEN THOUGH THE General Assembly is expected under usual procedure to approve a state budget for the upcoming year before their spring session ends at the end of May.

Remember that one year when Rod Blagojevich was governor when the differences of opinion (that’s putting it mildly) between he and the Legislature were so great that the matter didn’t get settled finally until about early December?

That could wind up looking like a tea party by comparison to what could happen if both Rauner and the Legislature’s leadership remain as pig-headed as they are capable of being.

I remember back to 1991 when the budget didn’t get approved until the early hour of July 19 and people thought that was some sort of record moment that would never again be achieved.

UNTIL IN FUTURE years when it kept taking until early July to settle a spending plan for state government. All of this was basically about then-Gov. Jim Edgar and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, showing who could go longest without blinking.

Personally, I get the sense that Rauner has so many ideological points he wants to score that he’s willing to remain stubborn on budget issues, which are serious because of the fact that the budget approved last year really made no sense unless you presumed the General Assembly would come back later in the year and approve the extension of the state income tax hike that started withering away at year’s end.

We still have those pension funding issues. We have a governor who seems to think he can merely force his views upon the public (which may be why nearly half of all those who have an opinion disapprove of him).

And, quite frankly, we have a House speaker with a veto-proof majority who’s more than willing to make an effort to let the new governor who the real boss is of Illinois government.

I HAVE READ my share of gags on the Internet about how Smith may wind up being released from prison and somehow get himself back into the Statehouse just in time to vote on the final budget proposal.

Although I think it more likely Smith will wind up spending the summer months at a minimum-security prison facility serving his sentence, reading the news and shaking his head with contempt at the knuckleheads in Springfield who are letting this budget mess drag on and on.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Is Kris Bryant city's baseball savior? Of course not; that’s Jose Abreu!

Do I owe an apology to Kris Bryant, whom I’ll admit I mocked last week when he made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs going hitless in four at-bats, and managing to strike out in three of them?

Considering that Bryant is supposed to be the big star player who is going to turn the pathetic Cubs franchise into baseball champions and that there were people all throughout baseball who were worked up that he wasn’t immediately called up to the major leagues this year (he hit .321 with three home runs and 12 runs batted in for the Iowa Cubs in seven games before getting the call-up to Chicago), it seemed funny to me that his big baseball debut was a dud.

OF COURSE, IT should be kept in mind that it was just one ballgame, and part of the beauty of baseball is that today’s goat is tomorrow’s on-field hero.

Since then, Bryant seems to be on a hitting streak.

In his seven ballgames with the Cubs as of Thursday, he has the .409 batting average (and a .591 slugging percentage, along with four doubles, six walks and seven strikeouts – three of which were those first-game whiffs that we’ve already mentioned.

Now I have amongst my Facebook-type friends a guy I went to Junior High School with who seems to have bought into Cubs-mania on account of Bryant. I’m seeing constant updates about how “oHHHHHHH-K” Bryant is, along with how he’s, “on fire. He don’t need no Gatorade. Let that Rookie Phenom Hit. Hit, Rookie Phenom Hit!” I took out his ALL-CAPS mania and translated it into readable English.

I’M ALMOST SURPRISED I have not received some sort of Internet-transmitted blip telling me where I could stuff my original commentary that called Bryant’s Cubs debut an example of quintessential Chicago Cubness – failing when it most mattered.

So I’ll admit that Bryant has basically had a good first week playing baseball in the Major Leagues. His games against the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates (minus the first one) have been the kind of hot streak that any ballplayer wishes to have – and that the best of them rely upon to balance out the times when they “stink on ice” and can’t get a hit no matter what.

Then again, that is one week out of a 26-week long regular season. And Bryant is already being jerked around from position to position (center field, from his usual third base).

The real test will be to see how Bryant keeps hitting in mid-season, or in the weeks following the All Star Game. When fatigue sets in and the aches and pains any human body experiences when trying to play the rigor of a 162-game season takes its toll.

LET’S BE HONEST; Chicago White Sox star slugger Jose Abreu was the American League Rookie of the Year last year largely because he had such an overwhelming first half of the season.

I'm not saying he flopped come August and September, but much of the home run power that he showed early in the year and that had him in the running for much of the 2014 season to lead the American League in home runs dissipated.

He would have had 50-something home runs if he had kept up that ridiculous pace, instead of the still-respectable 36 home runs he finished the season with.

Besides, I can’t help but notice Bryant hadn’t hit any home runs as of Thursday. Abreu managed to get his first on Opening Day – being the lone run in that otherwise appalling 11-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals.

SO HERE’S HOPING that Kristopher Bryant, who gives us the most offbeat Cubs name spelling since “Ryne Sandberg”), does manage to accomplish something of significance. It would be nice if Cubs fans would finally shut up with their whiny routine about how we’re all supposed to feel sorry for them and think they’re special because their team hasn’t won a thing since back when V-J Day was fresh in the newspapers.

Although if you really want to see the best ballplayer in Chicago, you have to make the trip to U.S. Cellular Field – where Abreu has his 5 home runs this season (second in the league to 8 for Seattle’s Nelson Cruz), along with 12 runs batted in, 7 runs scored and .291 batting average.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are we destined to be “blessed” by being picked for site of Obama library?

In the ongoing dispute over where President Barack Obama would choose to have the legacy museum and library meant to enhance his historical reputation, I can’t help but wonder how long until we get the big announcement.

Because to listen to the various reports that have emanated from assorted places, Chicago has done everything that has been asked.

WE CAME UP with a site with proximity to the University of Chicago and put on the political pressure to make those individuals who hate the idea of a presidential library being built on Chicago Park District land feel uncomfortable.

Heck, some 332,171 of us even went so far as to vote for Rahm Emanuel to be our mayor for the next four years – out of the ridiculous belief that having Jesus Garcia as nuestra alcalde (that’s “our mayor” for those of you who are linguistically challenged) was somehow a deal-killer for the Obamas.

That supposedly was the reason why the Obama Foundation that technically is deciding this issue (in reality, it’s the president himself, deferring to the best judgment of first lady Michelle) held off on making an announcement about a museum and library location back in February.

We needed to see if Chicago voters cast their ballots properly in order to deserve such a facility.

YES, I’M BEING very facetious in writing this, because I honestly believe if the Obama interests were being shallow enough to decide their library location based on a municipal election outcome that ought to be the deal-killer for anybody with sense.

In which case, let the facility go to Honolulu – which you have to admit would provide for a most-unique location for a facility that usually winds up in places like Abilene, Kan., or Grand Rapids, Mich.

Then again, Ike and Jerry Ford aren’t Obama by any means.

I got my amusement from the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday, which gave us a “Sneed Exlusive” that says it’s just about a done deal – the presidential library will be located in Chicago.

THE CLINCHING ACTION was the resignation of Cassandra Francis of the Friends of the Parks organization. That is the group that always complains about over-commercialization of the public parks, and was threatening to tie the Obama library/museum proposal into legal knots if they tried to put it there.

They may still be opposed, technically. But having a hole in leadership hurts their effort to put up much of a court fight.

Although considering how political people have their ways of influencing the courts, I’d have to wonder what judge out there would want to be remembered as the guy who ruled against Obama.

This isn’t South Texas where a federal judge was only too eager to put a hold on Obama’s attempt to impose some common sense to the nation’s immigration policies – rather than the ideological nonsense that comes from the kind of people who are likely to want to demonize the library/museum project for years to come.

IN CHICAGO, THIS project is going to be a big deal.

The part of columnist Michael Sneed’s report Wednesday that caught my eye was her claim that the Business Leadership Council and other African-American community leaders were preparing to take on Friends of the Parks by claiming that their no-parkland stance was denying the black community of Chicago a chance to have a significant facility.

Even Emanuel seems to realize this. In Washington this week, he told reporter-types who asked if Chicago would consider bidding for a future Olympic Games that he was more interested in attracting the library/museum for the man whom he once served as chief of staff.

He called a presidential library, “an Olympics with an annuity that gives every year,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

EVEN THOUGH THERE’S a good chance that such a facility would be visited once by locals, then become the site where future generations of schoolchildren from the city (if not the more Republican-oriented of suburban communities) would go on field trips.

Which is what we have to look forward to when the announcement is made.

As I look up from my keyboard, I see a plastic mold figure of the U-505, the Nazi Germany submarine that was captured intact and has been on display for decades at the Museum of Science and Industry. The mold is a souvenir from a long-ago trip to the museum.

Will future generations go to the Obama museum and wind up coming home with a plastic mold bust of the president’s head – big ears and all?!?


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” reinforcing Illinois’ urban/rural split?

Gov. Bruce Rauner has his “Turnaround Agenda,” a set of policies meant to reinforce the anti-organized labor attitude he has expressed ever since he became a candidate for governor some two years ago.

The agenda is meant to reinforce the idea that local people should be allowed to undermine the authority of labor unions, and it is with that goal in mind that Rauner’s staff has been working to try to get local governments across Illinois to pass a resolution saying they support the agenda.

I HAVE FOUND some amusement from reading the Capitol Fax newsletter’s website in recent days, as publisher Rich Miller is running tallies of which communities are feeling compelled to express their support for the governor’s desires to make Illinois a “right-to-work” state (implying that unions interfere with people getting jobs, rather than merely protecting their right to be compensated respectably for their work).

Day after day, it seems that every rural community across the southern third of Illinois, and even a few in central Illinois, adds to the list of Rauner supporters. Then again, the voters in those places were the bulk of Rauner supporters in the 2014 election cycle – so it’s no surprise!

Monday was the day they finally got a “big” city on board – the City Council in Rockford voted largely on partisan lines (The Register-Star newspaper reported that one Democrat flipped) to support the resolution.

I know some will remember the days when Rockford was the second-largest city in Illinois and will want to think that means something. Although considering that Aurora and Naperville are both now larger, and Joliet's growing population nips at the heels of Rockford, I'd say it means Rockford isn’t what it once was.

WHAT I HAVE noticed about this is that the trend doesn’t seem to be spreading into metro Chicago. If there are any communities among the roughly 260 municipalities that comprise the Chicago suburbs that have backed the idea, I’m not aware of them.

In fact, the only area community I have heard of that even considered the idea was Crete – a Will County town that realistically can be considered the southern tip of the Chicago area and the place where some would say downstate Illinois begins.

Even then, Michael Einhorn, the long-time village president tried rewriting Rauner’s agenda a bit to soften it up. But the trustees decided to postpone any kind of action.

Reading through the suburban press these days finds a lot of quotes from suburban mayors who just don’t want to touch the issue. Which when combined with the fact that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will likely be the leader of the effort to quash Rauner’s symbolic resolution from becoming reality (because it would interfere with many of the priorities Emanuel thinks the state should have) means this is turning into the two-thirds of Illinois’ population refusing to go along.

EVEN THOUGH I’M sure the masses in the remaining third will want to see themselves as representing the true sentiments of Illinois.

All the “Turnaround Agenda” (which includes such language as, “Voters in our community should be allowed to decide by referendum whether or not employees should be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment”) is doing is becoming more evidence of the “urban vs. rural” split that has become Illinois’ character.

If anything, Rauner by pushing this resolution (thinking that it will pressure legislators into giving in to the governor’s anti-union beliefs) is making that split bigger than usual.

I’d argue he’s becoming the source of the problem, rather than any attempt to become a solution.

HONESTLY, I WON’T be surprised if a lone suburban community or two wind up backing “Turnaround.” Naperville in onetime GOP bastion DuPage County took up the issue Tuesday night. There always are a few exceptions to the rule. But this isn’t a revolution sweeping its way across Illinois – the way Rauner backers would have us think.

If anything, I wonder if Makanda (the Southern Illinois municipality that was the long-time home of now-late Sen. Paul Simon) is the true way of how the Land of Lincoln thinks.

It seems their village officials voted to support the resolution earlier this month without realizing exactly what it meant. The Southern Illinoisan newspaper reported that village President Tina Shingleton said officials thought it was just a call for local control of local government.

Rather than part of an agenda to undermine organized labor and the people who work at such jobs – a desire that Makanda officials are now desperately trying to undo to avoid looking even more foolish than they already do!


EDITOR’S NOTE: Will “Turnaround” be the issue that breaks up the Emanuel/Rauner friendship? Or at least membership in that pricey wine club?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

EXTRA: A 20-vote lead, will it hold?

Tuesday was the final day by which Chicago Elections Board officials had to validate and count provisional ballots from the April 7 elections, while also processing absentee ballots that were put in the mail (and post-marked accordingly) by Election Day.

The final day of the canvass and the announcement of results for those municipal elections is April 28.

FOR MOST POLITICAL people, it doesn’t matter. There was no way Jesus Garcia would close a 75,000 vote gap to overtake Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But in the 10th Ward (the land where Indiana is the nearby reality that gives us a Whiting-based oil refinery that really stinks up the air), there was always the chance of a last-minute shift in votes that could alter the aldermanic election results.

Challenger Susan Sadlowski Garza went from a seven-vote lead over Alderman John Pope on Election Night, to an 89-vote lead once all the precincts were counted to a 33-vote lead once the first rounds of absentee ballots were counted.

As of Tuesday, she was down to a 20-vote lead. That’s 5,825 votes for Garza to 5,805 for Pope. As in Garza, a Chicago Teachers Union official who got in the race originally thinking she’d be a running-mate of sorts to Karen Lewis’ mayoral aspirations, has 50.09 percent voter support.

THAT’S CLOSE! THAT’S got to hurt for Pope – a 16-year member of the City Council – if he comes that close to winning re-election, but doesn’t. It would take something of historic proportions for him to prevail now!

By this point, it would seem that Garza is going into the history books along with Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 victory for the U.S. Senate – an 87-vote victory margin, albeit with over 1 million votes cast to the 11,600-plus for the 10th Ward election.

Someone may wind up tagging her with a nickname as memorable as “Landslide Lyndon.” Right now, my mind is a blank. Although I’m sure Garza will settle for the label that ultimately is the only one that matters.



Sports fans arguing about anything can result in some serious stupidity

It always amuses me to learn of people whose arguments about professional sports get so over the top that the cops need to be called in.

That seems to be the case this past weekend, where a man managed to get himself arrested twice by police on Saturday – with arguments that began over who was the greatest professional basketball player of all-time.

THE KID FROM Ohio, LeBron James? Or "His Airness" himself, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan!

The Chicago Tribune reported that Daniel Mondelice was arrested early Saturday at an apartment building in State College, Pa., after his quarrel with someone else on that very subject got out of hand.

He was able to get himself released by police after charges were filed. Yet he returned to a nearby apartment building and then managed to get into another quarrel when he refused to leave when asked, according to the State Collegian newspaper at Penn State University.

That caused his Saturday night arrest that resulted in him spending the rest of the weekend in jail. Associated Press reports indicate he was still there as of Monday morning. He is scheduled to be in court again on Wednesday.

THE NEWSPAPER ACCOUNTS didn’t indicate whether Mondelice was a Jordan backer, or was delusional enough to think that James reigns supreme! Although considering his age (22), he might be in the latter category.

For it usually turns out in these sports-themed arguments that people desperately want to believe that their own generation’s athletic heroes reign supreme. Just as I'm sure my own remembrances of one-time (and now deceased) Chicago Bear Doug Buffone are elevated because he played when I was a kid.

This guy would have been a bit young to have seen Jordan at his peak – and might want easily to dismiss what some claim is Jordan’s ultimate piece of evidence as to his superiority.

As in those six NBA championships in an eight-year period (two strings of three straight titles apiece) that gave Chicago its only taste of what it’s like to be a New York Yankees fan with perpetual strings of championship teams to root for.

THEN AGAIN, THE Yankees of the past two seasons didn’t even make the playoffs – thereby giving Yankees fans a taste of what it’s like to root for a Chicago ball club.

So what should we think of Mondelice – who may well have got the moment of infamy that now will perpetually crop up on search engines any time anyone does an Internet search of his name (and may wind up producing the bulk of the people who will ever read this particular commentary)?

I was amused to read the typical anonymous reader commentary that turned up on the Tribune website for the people who recalled the film “Bad Teacher.”

Because those of us whose minds have a knack of collecting clutter and trivia will remember the scene where actor Jason Segal’s gym teacher character argues about Jordan versus James with a student – ultimately saying the six titles is “the only argument I need” in Jordan’s favor!

EVEN THOUGH I’M sure there are those who want to think of Jordan as the aging (at 52, he’s only a couple years older than I am) owner of a mediocre basketball team in Charlotte, N.C.

Although I’m sure those James fans will get their comeuppance a couple of decades from now when some smart mouth will argue that some kid ballplayer yet to be born shows LeBron for the foolish old man he truly is.

These kind of sports arguments go on and on for generations, and we only hope that people have enough sense to keep their behavior in check so the police don’t have to get involved.

Because if you do wind up getting arrested, you might not be able to watch “Bad Teacher” for its classic scene – the one where Cameron Diaz in her short shorts shows off her physical attributes and gets soaking wet while washing cars!!!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Real terror occurred two decades (and a day) ago in Oklahoma City

Perhaps it was the sight of the former World Trade Towers collapsing into rubble after being hit square-on by two aircraft that elevated the 14-year-old attack to its level of prominence over what happened at the one-time Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

But I still have to say that what happened two decades ago in Oklahoma City strikes me as being so much worse than what occurred in New York – perhaps because the perpetrator is someone who on the surface appeared to be the “ideal” American.

IT WAS TWENTY years ago Sunday that a truck loaded with explosive substances was detonated; taking down the federal government building in Oklahoma City and killing some 168 people.

By pure dumb luck, the man believed to be the ringleader of the plot to strike at the U.S. government was arrested that very day – and law enforcement authorities were able to connect the dots quickly enough before Timothy McVeigh was able to post bond for the offense of driving a vehicle without a valid license plate and possession of a loaded firearm.

That resulted in the criminal proceedings that ultimately wound up with McVeigh’s execution at the federal prison near Terre Haute, Ind., and accomplice Terry McNichols remaining in prison to this day.

I can recall the paranoia in the early moments following word of the explosion spreading. Way too many people were convinced that this had to be some sort of Arab thing. Some foreign plot to strike at the heart of our nation.

IT WAS A plot to undermine our society. But it came from within, and from an individual who on the surface would have had many of the credentials that would have caused the conservative ideologues of our society to think he was an upstanding citizen.

McVeigh wasn’t a genius. After finishing high school, he went the military route.

He was a combat veteran – having been among the U.S. troops sent to Kuwait to support the efforts to drive Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein out of that country. He failed in his efforts to become a part of Army Special Forces, but he did receive a Bronze Star, a National Defense Service Medal, a Southwest Asia Service Medal, an Army Service Ribbon and the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal before being honorably discharged near the end of 1991.

I can think of a lot of people with those same credentials who would be regarded as promising young men and women, and whom some would be willing to claim deserve some sort of privilege in our society.

I’M SURE EVEN McVeigh felt the same say about himself, probably thinking he and people like him were the only “true” Americans. But as we now know, he had his own contempt for the ideals upon which our society was based.

Even his military record included a reprimand for having purchased a “White Power” t-shirt that he considered a response to black soldiers who chose to wear “Black Power” shirts around the army base.

Perhaps that was a clue that should have received more attention. For McVeigh went on to become one of the people who became grossly offended when an FBI siege at a cult compound resulted in an explosion and fire that killed all the occupants inside.

I recall that incident near Waco, Texas as being one where religious radicals chose death at their own hand rather than surrender to FBI agents who were concerned about the level of firepower those people were packing. Twisted logic on their part!

HECK, EVEN ACTOR Chuck Norris (never known as liberal) had some agreement – I recently stumbled across the “Walker, Texas Ranger” episode in reruns where his character had to take down a David Koresh-like character who believed himself to be Messiah-like.

Instead, McVeigh plotted an attack on the U.S. government that occurred two years to the day after Waco – and some 220 years to the day after the start of the American Revolution.

It took a serious amount of delusion to think of oneself as a revolutionary for driving a Ryder rental truck loaded with explosives, then triggering them off as a truck-sized bomb.

Even though McVeigh himself is gone, what can be scary is the idea that his ideals were not solitary – there are others amongst us delusional enough to think him a martyr. Making him more terrifying than any Middle Eastern buffoon who thinks Allah would reward their own violent actions.