Saturday, February 18, 2017

'Bipartisan cooperation' most definitely “dirty words” from the political past

I remember a moment from just over two decades ago when I overheard then-Gov. Jim Edgar engaging in political chit-chat with one of his aides.

MICHEL: Tried to bring pols together
Their subject? The retirement of long-time Peoria-area Congressman Bob Michel from Capitol Hill – including his post as leader of the House Republican caucus.

THE GIST OF their conversation? Wasn’t it a shame that Michel, who served for 38 years in Congress until his decision to retire following the 1994 election cycle, never got a chance to be Speaker of the House of Representatives?

Sure enough, the era in which Michel was a part of Illinois’ congressional delegation was one in which Democrats had control over the U.S. House the entire time.

Michel was the leader of Republicans for the final 14 years of his time in Congress, and developed a reputation as a person who could reach a deal with the opposition.

Which from his perspective meant he could achieve some goals for his constituents, even though technically he and his supposed allies were in the minority. Bipartisan cooperation as it can work, if everybody is willing to give a little and doesn’t adopt the attitude that political victory means squashing the opposing caucus into dust!

WHICH MOST DEFINITELY is the prevailing attitude of today – one that Republicans brought to bear in Washington right upon Michel’s demise. Because that election cycle in which he retired was the one in which Republicans gained a House of Representatives majority for the first time in decades.
TRUMP: Is his presidency the anti-Michel?

Not that anybody believes Michel should have held on for another term or two to be a boss on Capitol Hill. Because it usually is regarded by political observers that it was the change in leadership that helped cause the Republican rise to power.

Because it was the election cycle that resulted in Newt Gingrich becoming something more than just a congressman from Georgia, but a national figure who gave us the “Contract with America” that was a blatantly partisan political document meant to establish the ideals of a rural segment of our nation.

It certainly is a significant part of the path that has led our nation to our current predicament of a president openly hostile toward anyone who doesn’t share his own ideological agenda and more than willing to be vindictive to those not exactly like himself.
GINGRICH: He sides w/ Trump

I REMEMBER MICHEL being replaced in his congressional seat by Ray LaHood, his one-time chief of staff who later became Transportation secretary under President Barack Obama and, it turns out, became one of the few Republicans who rejected the Contract with America concept, and was also one of the few people amongst Republican ideologues who didn’t denounce Michel as a part of the failed concept of cooperation.

As though war and hostilities with the opposition party were the only way to achieve the goals one desired, while also crushing anything other people might want. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that the modern-day Gingrich was one of the few Republicans who openly backed Donald J. Trump’s political aspirations throughout last year’s election cycle.

Michel was a Republican, but he was one that I often heard older Democratic political operatives speak highly of – just because it was possible for things to be accomplished, unlike the age of ranting and raging that was developing then and has matured some two decades later, so to speak, into an obnoxious adulthood.
LaHOOD: At times, carried on Michel's spirit

It is one that I often wonder if it is to blame on my own generation, since it seems that many of the political operatives of today came of age back around this era and aren’t that much older than I am now. Or as Michel himself told the D.C.-based “Roll Call” newspaper in an interview not long ago, “I have to sometimes shake my head and say ‘My God.’ It is a far different place than it was in those days.”

MICHEL, OF COURSE, crops up into my mind on account of his death on Friday at age 93 following a bout with pneumonia. How amenable was he? Consider that for his 90th birthday, a party managed to include former House speakers of both political persuasions to pay tribute to the man who once tried to bring people together. Both Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were on the guest list, along with our state’s very own Denny Hastert.
RAUNER: Could he use bipartisanship lessons?

That nature was acknowledged by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who issued his own statement praising Michel’s memory. “Best known for his bipartisan style and working cooperatively with Democrats and Republicans alike, he was beloved by all,” the governor said. Ironic, considering how much trouble the governor has in grasping the concept of bipartisan cooperation.

Perhaps the death of Michel is a moment we can use to reflect upon what has been lost by our own ability as a society to come together and use the government process to try to achieve things on behalf of our society.

In this “Age of Trump,” that seems like such an alien concept – in that the have-nots have to worry about what government intends to do TO them so as to assuage the presidential ego! And the inability to work together stretching into a third year without a state budget.


Friday, February 17, 2017

What did Thursday's ‘Day w/o Immigrants’ accomplish?

I wasn’t the least bit shocked when I read through some of the commentary posted on Facebook in response to several stories that had been written about the “Day Without Immigrants” protests that took place Thursday.
I complied, inadvertently

The nativist nitwit segment of our society wanted to make sure we all knew they think the people who participated in protest are irrelevant to our society, and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would be wise to arrest protesters so as to garner a large share of future deportees.

IF ANYTHING, WHAT appalled me the most was the poor grammar of most of these nattering nabobs of negativism (to steal from the spirit of one-time Vice President Spiro Agnew’s quote that was his one positive contribution to our society).

Their spelling stinks and their grammar was atrocious. This coming from the people who go about thinking they’re the “real” Americans.

I suspect many of the immigrant protesters for whom English is an acquired language probably speak and write it better!

For it would seem that these protesters, consisting both of immigrants to this country and people who want to make it clear that the nastiness emanating from the mind of our current president has nothing to do with the American Way of life!

PEOPLE WERE ENCOURAGED not to go to work or school or spend any kind of money. The protest was meant to be a one-day example of the economic impact the so-called foreigners (or whatever stupid slur one might choose to use) have on this country.
Spirit reminiscent of this 2004 film

There were noon hour protests in Chicago with people marching from Union Park on the Near West Side to the Federal Building plaza. Which actually seems like a common destination for protests in Chicago these days.

The women marched there. Now the immigrants – although they didn’t achieve the hundreds of thousands of participants that the ladies did when they chose a Saturday morning to participate.

It makes me think that many immigrant types had to work for a living. Otherwise the crowds could have been larger.

AND WHAT DOES it say that many of the xenophobic types had the time to take to Facebook (and probably Twitter too, I haven’t bothered to check) to write their rants all through the afternoon?
Was Elia really talking about nativists?

It reminds me of one-time Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia’s famed obscenity-laced rant when he said “85 percent of the world are earning a living” while the other “15 percent” have the time to go to weekday afternoon Cubs games so they could harass the ballplayers.

Could it be that the “15 percent” who write these pathetic rants and the “46 percent” of people who voted for Donald Trump to be president are the same people?

It also amazed me the degree to some businesses acknowledged reality and closed for the day – and not just a few shops in the Little Village neighborhood. Chicago’s famed Berghoff Restaurant forced its usual noon-hour lunch crowd downtown to have to acknowledge the immigration issue.
Bayless joins in the cause

WHILE CELEBRITY CHEF Rick Bayless closed four of his Mexican-oriented restaurants, and said he’ll donate proceeds from the two restaurants he kept open to groups fighting to defend those immigrants being harassed.

Certainly a good move on his part – since he can now claim to have made an economic sacrifice and gain positive publicity by taking an action he had little choice but to do. Although I expect the Latino activist types who get all worked up that the pop star chef of Mexican cuisine is actually a white boy native of Oklahoma won’t want to give him any credit.
Forced downtown lunchgoers to address issue

There was even the Pete’s Fresh Mart chain of supermarkets that focuses its business on neighborhoods that often are ignored by Jewel. Their Southwest Side stores were closed. I wouldn’t know personally because I didn’t do any shopping Thursday.

Sure enough, I complied with the protest by not doing shopping or engaging in commerce. Athough I did keep a previously-scheduled doctor’s appointment – does that make me a “traitor” to la causa?


Thursday, February 16, 2017

At least Roskam said “no” publicly, before hiding from voter questions behind disconnected phone call

I’m willing to give Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., one bit of credit – he’s not spewing a whole lot of nonsense trying to justify his refusal to appear at public events where he’d be confronted by his constituents.
ROSKAM: Won't appear in public?

Roskam is the member of Congress from Wheaton who represents the bulk of DuPage County in Washington who in recent weeks has been taking heat for the fact he won’t show up at public forums and town hall events.

THE ELGIN-BASED Courier News newspaper reported recently about a recent event in which Roskam took questions from the public even though he wasn’t present – he called in by telephone.

To the people who wanted to hear from their congressman, he was just a voice on the telephone. And technology being what it is, there were glitches. Poor audio, no sound or some people just got hung up on, according to the Courier News.

But Roskam, who I remember having dealings with back in the days when he was a mere state legislator, doing his time in both the Illinois House and state Senate before going off and becoming a “big shot” in Washington, D.C., seems to think this is adequate in terms of meeting with the people who actually voted to send him off to Capitol Hill.

Now having spent the past quarter century of my life covering political geeks, I’m used to them spewing a sense of double-talk, particularly when the blunt truth would be a response something along the lines of, “I don’t want to answer that question.”

IN THIS PARTICULAR call-in forum, someone tried to get Roskam to commit to participating in a public forum against his opponent come the 2018 election cycle. To which Roskam gave an honest answer – “I am not willing to make any commitments in advance of any sort of campaign. So no, in answer to your question.”

Most political people would have engaged in a convoluted line of double-talk that would have rivaled the legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel’s ability to confuse with the spoken word.

Roskam actually came out and said “no.”
'Town hall' forums often are so staged that little 'truth' comes out of them
Which isn’t surprising. It is rare that political people want to challenge an opponent face-to-face. They’d rather spew rhetoric from a distance, usually rhetoric that has been crafted well in advance and is meant to take cheap shots with a tiny bit of truth attached to it.

OF COURSE, NOW Roskam opens himself up to the charges that he’s hiding from his constituents. But I’m sure he feels more comfortable dealing with that line of accusation, rather than the other attacks that political people find themselves under.
STENGEL: Spewing nonsense better than any pol

Insofar as the people who are upset that Roskam won’t take part in “town hall” forums, I actually find myself agreeing with the congressman when he says he thinks the forums are unproductive.

The “town hall” is a format meant to simulate an actual discussion between a candidate and the voters. But too often, it comes off as rehearsed in its own way. Only certain people get called upon to ask questions, if they can be counted on to ask the “right” questions.

It’s phony public discourse. Unless, by chance, someone manages to slip in who wants to challenge. But then it just turns into a fracas. Nothing real is learned. No one is swayed. Roskam would rather not be bothered playing along.

IF ANYTHING, THERE have been times when I, as a reporter-type person, felt used covering such events, because it was thought my presence and my resulting stories offered a sense of legitimacy to such events – even when I’d point out the elements of phoniness that existed.

As for Roskam, he’s now going to have to deal with allegations that he’s dodging his constituents. Although it seems that many pols get hit with that accusation from time to time.
Is beating Duckworth his sole achievement

We’ll have to see how DuPage voters respond. Will this become a real issue come the 2018 election cycle? Or will bigger issues and more serious controversies manage to take the electoral stage?

Will Roskam wind up becoming merely the guy who once beat Tammy Duckworth for his seat, only to see her go on to become the U.S. senator from Illinois? Which sounds as hollow as when his congressional colleague, Bobby Rush, still tries to boast that HE’s the guy who once beat Barack Obama.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

EXTRA: Capitol Quips? Or pure nonsense emanating from the guv!

Term limits get job creators excited.”

LINCOLN: Shuddering in disgust?

Yeah, maybe in some bizarro-world where Donald Trump is considered a compassionate ruler completely lacking in self-interest. Or where Pauly Shore was ever considered to have talent as an actor.

But in our own world, all we can do is laugh at the thought that Gov. Bruce Rauner really said that line, towards the end of the budget address he gave during the noon hour Wednesday in making it clear he’s not backing away from the ideologue nature of the first two years of his gubernatorial term.

WHAT MADE THE Rauner speech – which I must confess the Rauner camp was gracious enough to send me a copy of by e-mail about a half-hour prior to his actually delivering it on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives – particularly off was the fact that the governor began it with an Abraham Lincoln quotation:

The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion… we must think anew and act anew.” Which isn't as bad as the recent Trump misquote of Lincoln that made "Honest Abe" sound like a sympathy card saying.

What's odd about the Lincoln quote is that it apparently applies to everyone except the governor, whose strategy seems to be to tell his critics to “Shut up and do what I say!” Because he intends to say the same things, rather than "act anew."

It makes me wonder what Lincoln himself would say at the thought of having his name dragged into Wednesday’s budget address. Maybe he’d give the guv a “Three Stooges” type smack upside the head” and tell him to “Do the job!”


For Rauner, is 3rd time the charm? Or is it Steeerike 3, Yer Outta Dere!!!

Wednesday is the day that Gov. Bruce Rauner will take his third crack at presenting a budget proposal for Illinois government’s upcoming fiscal year, which kicks off July 1.

RAUNER: At what point is it Bruce's fault?
It’s a routine ritual – the governor puts forth a spending plan, the opposition party in the Legislature says the governor is out of touch. His allies come to his defense, and in the end the General Assembly approves a plan that will be about 99 percent of what the governor asked for in the first place.

OR AT LEAST that’s the way things used to work each spring when it came to putting together the plan by which state government would spend the money it had available from state taxpayers and federal government grants.

For as we all know, Illinois government hasn’t had a formal budget in place since the 2015 fiscal year that was the end of the Pat Quinn era of state government. Rauner came into office with a desire to impose a series of changes meant to undermine the authority of organized labor.

Under the disguise of being “reform,” he has decided that getting these changes is more important than having a government that operates functionally.

While I don’t doubt that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is more than willing to play political games in order to mess with the governor’s mind and prolong any gaffes he makes, this standoff we have been in for two years now is truly going to be Rauner’s lasting legacy.

AND IT IS one that is now going into its third year. Rauner will make his third attempt at proposing a state government budget, even though he’s the governor who has never been able to get a budget passed into law.
MADIGAN: When will he be reasonable?

Legislators whose bills continually get stalled and thwarted wind up becoming the subject of ridicule.

So the question arises what will we get from Rauner this year? Is he finally determined to show he’s capable of handling the operations of state government as many Republican governors have managed to do while dealing with Madigan as the Illinois House speaker?

Or are we truly moving forward to being on our way to having yet another year without a state budget – which is a hassle because of the Illinois Constitution requirements that a budget be in place for government to operate the way it should.

THERE HAVE BEEN efforts within the Illinois Senate to put together a budget plan that could get the state operating the way it should and enable officials to focus on the backlog of bills that now totals in the billions of dollars.

Although there are questions about whether the Illinois House of Representatives would follow suit and approve something, Besides, there also are the objections of Republican types who say this plan is nothing more than the same old tax hikes and (what they consider) overspending that has caused the financial situation that has Rauner so willing to thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the works of state government.

So what will happen Wednesday?

I have no doubt Rauner will attempt to sound oratorical and try to make us think he’s having deep thoughts about our state’s future. Although I always suspect that our state officials don’t think too deeply about what they do – it would confuse them.

JUST LIKE THE legendary baseball catcher Yogi Berra who once said of the mechanics of hitting a baseball, “How can you hit and think at the same time?”
The wit and wisdom of Yogi applies too often

But at some point, Rauner is going to have to be the one who breaks – unless he really wants to be the one-term governor remembered because he couldn’t get a budget passed. There's only so far that all the GOP "Dump Madigan!" can go before people turn on the governor.

There’s a lot of rhetoric being spewed about Facebook and Twitter, with the slogan “Do the Job!” being used almost as an order to Rauner. If anything, Rauner could wind up appearing to be the reasonable one if he were to make serious efforts toward putting together a functional budget now. That is how he could convince people it's really Madigan's fault.

As for those ideological, anti-union dreams the governor has, they’ll still be there following the upcoming election cycle of 2018 – when the many millions of dollars of his own money that he’s putting into Republican political coffers may be capable of buying him a Legislature more sympathetic to his desires!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Romance (and baseball) are in the air. Yet city’s homicide rate looms heavy

It’s Valentine’s Day, a chance to celebrate our affections for that special someone in your life. Or, if by chance you’re unattached, it’s also the return of baseball (as in spring training camps opening in Arizona and Florida).
Life would truly be wonderful if a Ferris Wheel ride ...
Maybe you’re even capable of combining the two; as in contemplating the chances of an all-Chicago World Series occurring any time in the near future while enjoying with your loved one the free Ferris Wheel rides being given away Tuesday at Navy Pier.

ALTHOUGH I CAN’T help but feel an ominous feel in the air as we consider the level of violence that is falling upon us. We seem to be in a mood of anger that is pushing the number of outbursts to alarming levels.

Which is appalling because the record-high levels we reached in the late 1980s had declined to such significantly low levels that many of us probably were deluded into thinking we had “solved” this particular problem.

What caught my attention was a Chicago Tribune story published Monday morning that pointed out the 27 shootings that occurred this past weekend – including a pair of incidents involving girls ages 12 and 11.

That’s a lot of people lingering in hospital bed who may well have lapsed into death by the time you actually read this Tuesday morning.

NOW I NOTICED these incidents were confined to neighborhoods of a certain socio-economic status that makes the bulk of Chicagoans want to ignore them. For all I know, there are people out there reading this who think I’m engaging in extremely poor taste by bringing up dead people – instead of the chance the Chicago White Sox will actually be able to get some talent in exchange for their current ace pitcher Jose Quintaña.
... or a 2nd all-Chicago World Series could be top concern

Yet it’s because of the fact that many of us would be inclined to ignore the bloodshed that I feel compelled to bring it up. I always was, and likely will be, a malcontent cuss like that – which may be the reason I’m currently not seeing anyone steadily on this Valentine’s Day.

Because we have to take one fact into account.

There have been 69 homicides in Chicago the first month-and-a-half of 2017 – compared to 78 for the same amount of time last year, according to the Chicago Tribune. Technically, we’re down.
Will urban youth live long enough to attend Chgo St.?

BUT DOES ANYBODY feel that as a literal truth?

Now I don’t want to hear from the ideological crackpots who are going to start raging that Donald Trump is telling the truth whenever he goes on his near daily rants about how Chicago is all fouled up.

For I know the truth is that Trump is very much a part of the problem, and could care less about finding a solution. If anything, I suspect he needs for Chicago to have a high homicide rate because it gives him something to complain about. I doubt he's willing to do a thing that would actually help resolve the problem of urban violence rates in Chicago. The talk that passed between White House and D.C.-based officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel likely is just idle chatter.

Besides, it seems that the people who are suffering are the ones who didn’t vote for him. Maybe he thinks a re-election strategy is to let his detractors kill each other off?!?

SO WILL SERIOUS help come from Trump? No! Although I doubt that image of National Guard troops in Chicago would come either, because then people could blame Trump for anything wrong those part-time soldiers would do – and accepting blame for wrong-doing is as far removed from the Trump experience as anything!
Chance got his recognition -- a Grammy

The year 2017 is one in which we have our share of troubles. Bloodshed we consider to be ignorable, similar to another “story” I encountered Monday – the New York Times reported on the financial struggles of the athletic program at Chicago State University, which are the extreme end of the financial troubles many state colleges are facing these days because of the Illinois government budget fiasco.

Which also is ignorable because of the many of us who dismiss Chicago State as just some sort of school for the few people in select South and West side neighborhoods who manage to live long-enough to even consider attending college.

Although the Chicago kid known as “Chance, the Rapper” did manage to win a Grammy Award this weekend. All in all, a heck of a way for 2017 to say, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”


Monday, February 13, 2017

EXTRA: ‘Early voting’ for a few, nothing for the electoral masses

If you happen to live in Evanston to the north, Berwyn to the west, or Calumet City or Dolton to the south, then Monday is a day of significance.
ORR:Staff among few aware elections are forthcoming

It’s the first day you can show up at an early voting center and cast ballots for the Feb. 28 primary elections being held in those municipalities.

THEY ALL HAVE mayors or aldermanic posts up for grabs, and those are the few communities that have formal primary elections – even though most of them are dominated by Democratic Party political structure. Most don’t have Republican parties, even in theory.

Meaning that the primary will mean more than the April 5 general election, which will be just a formality for the primary winners to actually begin governing again come May 1.

Most other suburbs have purely nonpartisan political structures, meaning they just have the one election in the springtime during which everything is up for grabs. The majority of voters can be completely oblivious to electoral politics, if they so choose. Although I'd argue they maintain such ignorance at their own risk!

Those of you dedicated enough to cast an early ballot can do so at the voting centers being maintained by the Cook County clerk’s office from now through Feb. 27 – with the usual polling places opening the following day; Election Day itself!

NOT THAT ANY of this means a thing if you’re among the one-third of Chicago-area residents who actually reside in Chicago. For this is the one electoral cycle in which city residents get a break.

Nothing up for grabs, and local government elections not scheduled again until 2019.