Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cook County ‘pop tax’ upsets political structure’s sense of who matters

If you think about it, it’s really not surprising to learn that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, doesn’t think much of the penny-per-ounce pop tax being charged by Cook County government.
Is Preckwinkle's 'pop tax' really a threat ...

Republican political operatives are gloating at the very notion that Madigan, who usually is supportive of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, is trying to concoct measures by which the pop tax would go away.

WHETHER THAT MEANS Madigan putting the strong-arm tactics to certain members of the Cook County Board to get them to shift their support from the tax that, in part, is supposed to help the county cover the cost of maintaining its hospitals and health care programs.

Or by having the General Assembly pass a law that would supersede the county’s ability to impose such a tax.

It could be either tactic. We’ll have to wait and see by which means Madigan attempts to undermine the county’s ability to use its taxing authority to raise money for itself.

In one sense, it could be perceived as the state meddling in county government business. But the reality is that all the layers of government do wind up getting intertwined. And other officials are now deciding to get involved in the pop tax because they’re fearful voters determined to vote “no” on the tax will wind up voting “no” on everything and anything.

IT WAS KIND of like a few years ago when then-county board President Todd Stroger tried balancing out the Cook County government budget with a boost in the county’s share of the sales tax.
... really a threat to Madigan majority?

Which combined with the state tax and any local taxes charged by municipalities. As many critics were quick to point out, the county’s increase drove the whole sales tax within the Chicago city limits to just over 10 percent.

Since the local political perception is that Chicago city government is most important and that Madigan’s long-time influence puts state government at a next rung, it means that the county had to assume a position of lesser importance.

Its sales tax hike had to go in order to get the overall sales tax in Chicago below 10 percent.

JUST AS NOW Madigan is fearing that his rank-and-file legislators in suburban Cook County might have their lives complicated when they run for re-election next year, IF the pop tax remains in place.
How quickly would Wrath of Rahm reign down on Toni?

So Cook County government, as an entity, may have to sacrifice its tax, because the carbonated beverages lobby (I refuse to use the label “Big Soda,” it just sounds so lame) doesn’t like the idea of anyone else making money off their products. People are just as offended by the 7-cent-per-plastic bag at stores in Chicago, yet nobody's telling the city they have to drop it!

I have to admit the pop lobbying effort appears more successful than that of the healthcare advocates, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who failed to take on pop in his own city by restricting the sale of those 32-ounce cups of pop – which really are vulgar is you think seriously about such a portion.

My own thought is that, while I agree with the premise of the tax and think that trying to benefit a public health goal is noble, seeing vending machines reading “kidney failure” and “Type 2 Diabetes” is just a bit too phony – and just as lame as the “Big Soda” label.

SO NOW MADIGAN is going to get involved, for his usual reason – self-preservation. There have been many noble concepts throughout the years that have died political deaths because Madigan felt his Illinois House leadership would be threatened by such efforts. Although there is some legitimacy to the converse position -- you can't accomplish anything if you lose the prior election.
How phony Illinois GOP rhetoric can be at times

Of course, I found it somewhat ridiculous to read the Republican response Friday to this issue – they want us to believe that any Democrat who NOW votes against the pop tax is merely being “Madigan cronies simply following the leader.”

Not that I ever expect Democrats (or any Chicago interests) to be worthy in the minds of the Illinois Republican Party. It’s usually best to ignore the perception of GOPers who, at times, seem embarrassed to be from the “Land of Lincoln.”

All I know is that it is just as likely that if this tax does die a month or so from now and does result in county funding cuts for health care services, I fully expect many of those same people will shift their ire to the health care cuts! Some people are just determined to complain – no matter what the issue.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

What’s going to kill Amazon.com chances? We can’t make up our minds

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that Amazon.com is likely to pick some place other than Chicago to be the site of the new second headquarters they want to build somewhere in the United States.
Could the Amazon.com logo become a part ...

As much as I think the Seattle-based Amazon types would be total lunkheads if they can’t appreciate how wonderful Chicago would be for their corporate needs, I also think we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves for the eventual failure.

FOR IT SEEMS that our political people who ultimately are going to have to put together some sort of package of incentives to entice Amazon.com types to come here are going to get undone by their own indecisiveness.

For it seems we can’t even agree on where we would want to have such a headquarters built – and the various interests who are each touting individual sites seem to think that “compromise” is defined as “Everybody else ought to shut up and do what we think is right!”

Within Chicago alone, there are supposedly six locations under consideration, and I’ve also heard from assorted interest groups who can easily tout locations that aren’t on the unofficial list of a half-dozen prospective sites.

I know that in my own home part of Chicago (the 10th Ward, or southeast corner of the city), there are people who are getting all worked up that they think the knuckleheads at City Hall aren’t united by trying to entice Amazon.com with the site of the old U.S. Steel South Works plant along Lake Michigan.

THAT’S THE SITE where many developers have talked about trying to develop upscale neighborhoods taking advantage of the lake’s proximity. Although I suspect many of those city officials trying to put together a Chicago proposal want a location more potentially upscale than something at 79th Street and the lakefront.
... of Chicago cityscape like Walgreen's?

Their idea of a waterfront site for Amazon.com usually talks about the Chicago River, specifically the north branch. Where there are some architectural drawings in existence that show an artistically-spectacular structure that could be erected for Amazon.com.

Or others talk about turning the Old Post Office building in the South Loop into a headquarters – citing how it is historically significant, would be a nice re-use and also would be within walking distance of other prominent downtown Chicago structures and businesses.

Some even speculate about a suburban site, such as the Oak Brook location where McDonald's used to have its 'Hamburger U' where it trained franchise managers. We can't even get our own thoughts together united behind a proposal. Which makes me wonder if the Amazon.com types will just write us off altogether.

YET IT’S NOT just the city trying to get itself involved in the Amazon.com battle.

Gov. Bruce Rauner admits Illinois will be working with St. Louis officials who are trying to entice Amazon.com to come to their city. Rauner figures that it would benefit the Illinois residents of Madison and St. Clair counties (which are this state’s portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area) if the plant were to be located there.
Could Kankakee or Gary, Ind., ...

Yet that may not be the only Illinois alternate interest.

The Capitol Fax newsletter reported this week that Kankakee County officials are trying to persuade Rauner to include their area in any state proposal to try to get Amazon.com to come to Illinois.

A KANKAKEE-AREA based facility would have proximity to the far south end of the Chicago area, while also being not that far from the University of Illinois campus in Urbana.

Then, there’s also the potential political battle evolving just over the state line in Indiana, where Lake County business officials are trying to put together a proposal to try to entice Amazon.com to locate in the Hoosier state, while Gary, Ind., city officials are putting together their own proposal – one that they advertised earlier this week in the New York Times.
... bring Amazon.com into proximity of Chicago?

Both of those groups are claiming their proximity to Chicago means Amazon.com could get the Chicago-area labor without having to actually locate in Chicago.

That’s a lot of confusion, and there’s always the chance of more groups trying to tout themselves between now and Oct. 25 – the date that Amazon.com supposedly wants to have proposals submitted by. Enough confusion that the Seattle types could easily wind up deciding that the New York Times was right in recommending Denver as the best site.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Retailers get defensive about pop prices

I stopped the other day at a place to get myself something to eat – a hamburger and Coca Cola (I took a pass on the fries) – and wound up getting into something of a quarrel with the manager over the price.
There might have been fewer questions if all posted the pop tax data as clearly as this McDonald's franchise did. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda
Admittedly, when I heard how much was being charged, I tried to question the cost. Which caused the manager to go into a long diatribe about how this “damned tax” on pop and other sweetened beverages was causing him to jack up his own prices.

ACTUALLY, I WAS curious about the cost of the burger, and it took me a couple of minutes before I was able to cut off the manager and inform him I wasn’t questioning the cost of the soft drink.

He eventually gave me the straight answer about the burger price, and it seems the high price of the bill was due to the hamburger. Which means that, from my perspective, I now know of a place I won’t try to eat at again.

It was expensive, a bit too much for just a burger and Coke!

But what caught my attention about the incident was the quickness of the fast-food franchise manager to come to the aid of his cashier and engage in such a quarrel. I sense that many people are complaining about pop prices and are haranguing the hired help about the tab (and no, I don’t mean the soft drink Tab, which I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw it for sale anywhere).

ARE RESTAURANTEURS GETTING that touchy that they feel the need to defend themselves against complaining customers, many of whom admittedly are just cheapskates who likely will look for any excuse to complain about the price? Which is how I perceive the We Ask America survey showing 85.94 percent of people wanting the tax repealed, and 77.59 percent less likely to vote for county board President Toni Preckwinkle's re-election.

It is with incidents such as this in mind that I am not surprised to learn that the Can the Tax Coalition is going around citing statistics saying that beverage sales are on the decline by 47 percent in Cook County.

I’m sure the coalition, which gets its money from the American Beverage Association and other support from the Illinois Food Retailers Association, wants us to believe that this is a matter of people making special trips to surrounding counties or out-of-state (if they live near the Illinois/Indiana border) to buy their pop.

Some of it may be.

BUT I ALSO wonder if some of it a matter of people deciding that with the potentially significant boost in price due to the penny per ounce tax on such beverages, perhaps there just isn’t as much of a need to consume so much carbonation.

Which would mean that the county tax may be serving one of its stated goals – to help boost the public health by reducing the level of sugar that people consume. Although I’ll be the first to admit that the purpose of any tax is to raise revenue – and not to reduce consumption of anything.

Not even the taxes that get assessed on tobacco products that can make the price of a package of cigarettes so absurdly high that it’s a wonder anybody bothers to smoke.

But they still do!

NOW I DON’T know for sure how much of this so-called decline in pop sales is due to people just drinking less pop. It may be wishful thinking on my part. I’m also sure that some people will start thinking of their consumption of carbonation as something resembling a revolutionary statement.

Which is sad, if that’s really the biggest issue they have to get so worked up over.

My point here is to say I’m skeptical about this latest statistic, which the pop industry lobbyists touted on Wednesday as part of their effort in coming weeks leading up to the Cook County Board’s finance committee reviewing a measure to repeal the tax.

We’re going to get a lot of rhetoric from all sides of this equation from people who claim they’re looking out for our personal freedoms, but only care about them so long as they match up with their own financial interests!

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

EXTRA: Video blasts from Chgo past

Rummaging through the accumulated scraps of junk otherwise known as the Internet, where I stumbled through the many multiple views of the Second City as seen throughout the years.

For some of you, the only appeal of Jean Shepherd's "America” will be the fact that they love the “A Christmas Story” film every Dec. 25 and will appreciate the Hammond, Ind., native’s take on Chicago. For it seems that Shepherd is among those who appreciates the fact his hometown is so close to the Greatest City on the shores of Lake Michigan.

BUT FOR THOSE who are particularly annoyed with this past baseball season and the way it has turned into a love-fest of cutesy Cubbiness and certain fans who are convinced their ball club has now developed a New York Yankee-like aura of invincibility, it will be nice to be reminded that Chicago is a two-team town when it comes to the national pastime.

Shepherd was a Chicago White Sox fan, and I got a kick out of him shooting a portion of this film from the right field seats of the old Comiskey Park – section G, seat 161, which supposedly was his father’s favorite general admission seat whenever he went to ballgames.

It’s also amusing to hear Shephard compare Chicago to small-town America, with Marshal Fields as the corner store and Lake Michigan as the swimming hole nearby.

I also got my kicks from seeing the “Chicago, 1957” video – a couple of minutes long, that manages to show us places that haven’t changed one bit during the past 60 years. Even though some others would like to think Chicago is nothing like it used to be.

THERE’S PARTICULARLY THAT point at Wabash and Lake streets where you see the “el” trains making the bend and you wonder if this is the moment when the trains will derail again at that spot – which actually happened once back in 1972 and was something that a certain generation of Chicagoans won’t ever forget.

Then, there’s the person who felt compelled to put on YouTube a collection of television commercials for local businesses back in 1971.

I’m still trying to figure out if I’m most amused by the vintage commercial for Courtesy and DuraFab, with the knuckleheaded kid who got his hot dog stains all over his friend’s parents couch, or the Marshall Brodien spots for TV MagiCards.

Which could supposedly give anybody the magical skills of Wizzo the Wizard from Bozo’s Circus.

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Does anyone seriously think people are better off living under Lake Shore Dr.?

I’m not kidding with that question. Because when it comes to the matter of people opposing city officials who want to do repairs to the drive in the Uptown neighborhood because it forced homeless people to relocate, I just don’t get it.
Homeless not just in Uptown, also downtown

The issue came to a head earlier this week when Chicago police had to use force to get people who had developed a “tent city” of sorts near Wilson and Lawrence avenues to leave the area.

CITY OFFICIALS HAD made arrangements for homeless shelters to accommodate those residents, but many of the homeless did not want to go. Which I almost understand – when one has little in life, they tend to cling too tightly to what little they do have.

No matter how cruddy it might be.

But there were activist groups who were fighting the city, trying to get measures approved in court that would interfere with the efforts to do the repair work to the bridges that are some 85 years old and are considered to be structurally deficient, due to age.

To those activists, the right of a person to take shelter under the bridges was more important than the public safety at large.

THERE ALSO ARE some people who think that plans to include bicycle paths are less about making public improvements for the surrounding neighborhood and more about making the area unsuitable for the return of homeless people once the bridge repairs are complete spring of next year.

Now throughout my years as a reporter-type person, I have heard countless arguments about gentrification and community repairs being made that do not take into account the existing residents and are meant more to turn a community into a place suitable for someone of a higher economic bracket.

I actually can sympathize with those arguments on the grounds that you’re trying to chase existing residents from their homes.

But in this case, we’re talking about people without homes. Personally, I find it shameful to think that anyone can find homelessness to be acceptable, and think that those people forced to seek shelter in public places isn’t an embarrassment to our society as a whole.

I’D SAY IT’S wrong that it took a road repair project to get city officials concerned enough to want to find proper shelter for those individuals in our society who, often through no fault of their own, have no other place to stay.

I’d say it’s long overdue that city officials made an effort to find alternate sites for those people who in some cases were pitching tents (and in some cases might not have even had that much shelter) to provide themselves something resembling housing.

And I’d say city officials ought to be concerned about the existence of conditions that cause many of those homeless officials to resist the idea of staying in a homeless shelter.

Seriously, anyone who reads the news reports of recent days about this issue can hear from those homeless who think a tent is a better shelter because of the sanitary conditions or overcrowded conditions of some of the homeless shelters.

IT TRULY IS sad to think our society in Chicago has reached a point where some people think they’re safer and more secure living out in the open of the Uptown neighborhood (which may not be the impoverished turf along the north lakefront that it used to be, but is still far from luxurious) rather than in a place with electricity and running water.

Perhaps those activists who were fighting in court until recently to thwart the road repair projects should have focused their efforts to improve the shelter options for those people whose life circumstances have caused them to resort to such conditions.

And I don’t want to hear from anyone who wants to believe that some people don’t know better and want to live like that. They’re probably the same nitwits who think that some women choose to be in prostitution.

We all have an obligation to try to help those at the bottom rungs of our society, if for the only reason being that our society as a whole is no longer than its lowest members.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Amazon in Chicago – how can they seriously consider any other HQ site?

I have a biased opinion – I think very highly of my home city of Chicago, and think that if the people who run Amazon.com seriously want the best possible location for the new second headquarters they want to build, it’s only a natural they will come here.
Could the 'smile' be on Chicago faces in future?

As in, if they don’t have the sense to realize how wonderful Chicago is, then who needs them anyway?!?

BUT I REALIZE there are a variety of perspectives, and the Seattle-based people who run Amazon.com likely are going to have a variety of communities offering up all the goodies they can envision to try to attract the facility.

Seriously, Chicago officials are eager to have the plant, because it would be a nationally-renowned business that would bring significant attraction to the city’s public image. In addition to the actual jobs that would be created by the need for such a facility to have employees based there.

Not that any of this means a thing to the person who, because they live in the middle of nowhere, finds it easiest to shop for goods through Amazon.com. They’ll buy their products regardless of where the plant they’re dealing with is located.

Now I don’t know what the chances are that Chicago will wind up getting the facility, even though so-called experts can rattle off a list of a half-dozen potential sites – and activist-types can come up with other locations they think are being overlooked.

INCLUDING THOSE PEOPLE who seriously say that Chicago ought to work with people in Gary, Ind., to make the latter a site for an Amazon.com facility. Gary certainly could use a jolt, since there are times when it seems like the only kind of business that Northwest Indiana city can attract are used-car lots.
Some dream of turning Old Post Office building into Amazon.com HQ
I’m sure there are those who will rattle off a “laundry list” of flaws about Chicago and the state political people that they think will scare off the Seattle boys into considering their own preferred site.

I’m also aware of that analysis the New York Times concocted that cited our political flaws and concluded that Denver, Colo., is the logical place for Amazon.com to locate.

I found it a little intriguing to learn that Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday admitted he’s working with Missouri officials who’d like to see St. Louis become the actual site of the new facility.
Could 21st Century take include Amazon.com logo?

BECAUSE THERE ARE parts of Illinois that lie right across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis. The decrepit city of East St. Louis, Ill., is literally in the shadow of the Gateway Arch – that city’s great landmark and supposedly the entry-way to the western United States.

Meaning that if Amazon.com were to locate there, it would be possible for some Illinois residents to gain jobs. Even though I’m sure that Missouri officials would love to concoct some sort of deal that would treat the river as an impenetrable barrier to prevent any of the economic benefits from flowing eastward.

But I’m also sure if Rauner comes out too strong in favor of a Chicago site (or even hinting at cooperation with Hoosier officials to get a Gary site), those people of rural Illinois who always rant and rage about Chicago taking everything would complain. Maybe even turn on the governor at a time when he’s trying to build up a strong “urban vs. rural” dichotomy to get himself re-elected.

So Rauner has to offer up some way of bringing downstate Illinois into the debate. Even if it’s probably a long-shot, and it would be more likely that Chicago would get serious consideration – that is, unless Amazon.com ultimately decides there’s nothing about the Midwestern U.S. that appeals to them.

WHICH WOULD BE a mistake.
Amazon.com retail in Chicago wouldn't be a new concept for the city
The reality is that Chicago has the potential for significant economic benefit due to its location. Major airports, along with highways and railroad lines that all treat Chicago as the national hub. It’s about as close to a central location as one gets.

And anybody who claims we’re too political in Chicago or Illinois ought to realize the ridiculousness of their argument if they’re also amongst those who are talking up the District of Columbia as a potential site.

Besides, just as there was a time in the 20th Century when people shopped mail-order through the Sears catalog, it enhanced the city’s image that Sears, Roebuck & Co. was located here. Maybe Amazon.com in Chicago is the perfect 21st Century continuation of that character.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Who will make GOP bid for AG?

With Lisa Madigan making it public that 20 years of public service in state government is enough (for now) for her, it will be intriguing who decides to try to fill the state attorney general vacancy she has created.
 
MADIGAN: Who will replace her?

Various reports are speculating on the same names of government officials with ambition – the state Sen. Kwame Raoul (whom some like to think of as a Barack Obama clone), former Chicago Public Schools and Illinois State Board of Education official Gery Chico and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart are amongst the predictable picks for this post.

YET ALL OF the speculation is coming on the Democratic Party side – who will get the AG nomination for the right to try to replace Madigan. I’ll have to admit to being more intrigued by what will happen on the Republican side of the equation.

Thus far, there’s only one person indicating a desire to run for the GOP nomination for attorney general. That’s Erika Harold, an Urbana-based attorney who has one major credential to her name.

Some 15 years ago, she was chosen as Miss America (the last time someone from Illinois won that beauty/scholarship pageant title). She’s the one who (based off the impression she gives of herself on her Facebook page) expects those old photos of her in sash and tiara to create a lovable image that people will cast ballots for her to be Illinois government’s attorney.
 
I remember a few months ago when I first heard Harold was in the running I checked out their Facebook and Twitter account images, and found the dueling visuals of Harold with a U.S. soldier in uniform – compared to Madigan marching in Chicago’s Pride Parade.
HAROLD: Will GOP replace her?

WHICH HAD ME wondering if the conservative ideologues who have come to dominate the Republican Party in Illinois were planning on a borderline sexist and homophobic campaign style to try to knock votes off the Lisa Madigan tally.

Considering that Harold herself has made several unsuccessful electoral bids in the past for congressional seats from her central Illinois native region, it gave me the impression of Harold as someone intended to fill a ballot spot running against someone the Republican Party didn’t really think it had a chance of beating.
 
It certainly isn’t Harold’s legal credentials that will inspire many people to vote for her. The University of Illinois alumna is also a Harvard Law School graduate, and also is a member of the state Supreme Court committee on equality and the commission on professionalism.
Is there a yet-to-be-determined GOPer in race?

Which isn’t irrelevant. But it’s not exactly the standing in the legal community that’s going to make people think she ought to be the chief attorney who defends Illinois state government when it gets into trouble.

THAT TIARA AND sash are going to be the primary images that will get her whatever political support she manages to gain.

She certainly was named publicly this summer as the Republican preference for attorney general at the Illinois State Fair, when the GOP had its own political rallies to drum up support for the ticket.

But now that it won’t be a four-term incumbent (who also served a term in the Illinois Senate from the Ravenswood neighborhood) to run against, it has me wondering how quickly the Republican Party’s political operatives will try to come up with an alternate candidate.
RAOUL: Wanting to move up pol ladder?

I know the Republican Attorneys General Association issued a statement last week indicating that Harold is the GOP choice for the post and spewed predictable rhetoric about “lead(ing) the fight against public corruption and bring(ing) integrity to the Attorney General’s office,” I can’t help but think it is empty rhetoric.

PARTICULARLY THE LINES about how Lisa Madigan supposedly dropped out in fear of Harold’s pending campaign, which is, “so strong, in fact, that Lisa Madigan has decided she doesn’t want to run a campaign for re-election.”
DART: Giving up sheriff post for attorney?

A line that was the chuckle of the week last week for political operatives across Illinois of all persuasions.

Of course, Republicans do have to show some care in the way they handle this. Because if they’re too blunt in their approach, they could wind up triggering a brawl within the party ranks that could wind up making everybody look foolish and wind up tainting whoever does manage to win the GOP AG nomination.

Which may well be the ultimate fantasy of Raoul or Dart (whom I can remember the days decades ago when political people speculated he’d probably try to be Chicago mayor someday, along with Lisa Madigan as Illinois governor) or whoever ultimately winds up being chosen in the March 20 Democratic primary for the nomination.

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