Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mitsubishi typical of corporate attitude; should we really cater to it too much?

It has been some three decades since I attended college in Bloomington, Ill., and the major local news story during the time I lived there was the arrival of an auto plant in neighboring Normal by Mitsubishi Motors.

A road sign soon to be obsolete
The coming of a U.S.-based auto plant by a Japanese company was a major event for that city – it supposedly put that central Illinois municipality on the international map. Unless you believe that Illinois State University has such a stellar reputation.

SO THE FACT that Mitsubishi officials let it be known recently that they’re closing that plant – and that the whole saga of Mitsubishi in central Illinois lasted all of 30 years tops – is a major blow to that community.

Yet somehow it doesn’t seem all that shocking that such a thing can happen.

Mitsubishi came to this state when it thought it could gain some sort of economic benefit for itself. The fact that it now no longer senses that benefit and thinks it can gain by going elsewhere is, in many ways, the way business operates.

Which is why I think it is ridiculous for government officials of a certain ideological bent to claim they’re being “pro-business” by conducting themselves in ways that are meant to cater to the whims of what corporate interests want.

WE’RE NOT GOING to get companies locating here with any particular loyalty by making these payoffs – which often involve giving assorted tax breaks to the companies to make them feel like the gross income they’re producing is theirs.

Mitsubishi made a fine auto in Illinois for 30 years
The activist-types who complain about this are often derided as being unrealistic, if not outright naïve. It also is argued that any loss of tax revenue by the local governments is made up for by the fact that the company employed people locally and helped boost the local economy.

The money they were paid in salaries got spent at local supermarkets and shopping malls and was used to make mortgage payments on local homes. Would the local community have been better off if those jobs hadn’t existed in the first place?

Now what makes me bring any of this up?

PART OF IT is the fact that I remember the local fanfare when Mitsubishi came to Illinois. One of the first vehicles off that assembly line, I seem to recall, was provided to then-Gov. James R. Thompson.

RAUNER: Will reforms result in more Mitsubishis
Heck, I remember buying a Mitsubishi vehicle (a Galant, to be exact) back during the 1990s stint that I lived in Springfield, Ill. I remember it as one of the best automobiles I ever owned.

But if we’re being totally honest about things, the fact that Mitsubishi is moving on is something that should have been expected. It may well be the “American Way” to look for a better deal elsewhere.

Which is why I find a lot of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s rhetoric about wanting to implement “reforms” to benefit business interests to be a step in the wrong direction.

DO WE REALLY want to give future Mitsubishis an excuse to come to Illinois for a time – only to move on when they come up with someone willing to make them a “better” offer in the future?

I’m more inclined to think that reform is about creating new business – not playing an endless game of getting existing business to move about and play musical chairs with the Great Lakes states. Leaving the workers without the representation that ultimately will look out for their rights when there is business conflict.

The companies we ought to be encouraging are going to be the ones that come here because they see great benefit to being physically located in our state and think they can create something rather unique here.

Otherwise, the Mitsubishi story of a company coming here for a few decades before moving on and leaving us empty shells of what once was will become all-too-common across Illinois; and that would be truly pathetic.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Dominican pride on display in upstate New York; Martinez becomes immortal the baseball way -- with bronze plaque

(NOT IN) COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It wasn’t just the suit coat he wore Sunday that caught the public eye toward new Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez.

Although with light blue and shoulder patches depicting the coat of arms of the Dominican Republic, it was clear that Martinez – the one-time star of the Boston Red Sox who gave the White Sox fits during way too many games – was determined to make a statement.

FOR IT WAS clear that Sunday at the Baseball Hall of Fame was meant to be an ethnic pride statement – which came timed particularly appropriately following the recent dismissal of an ESPN broadcaster for his comments.

Personally, I was upset to hear Colin Cowherd think that there is something less-than-literate or complex about baseball. Although his evidence of the simplicity of baseball – the fact that so many people of Dominican ethnic origins play the game – ticked off Martinez.

Who earlier said Cowherd wasn’t worthy of insulting a Hall of Famer like himself. And on Sunday made sure to let everybody know that he was Dominican and that there probably ought to be more Dominicans in the Hall of Fame.

For as it stands, there are only two people born in the Dominican Republic who got into professional baseball and made it all the way to the Hall of Fame.

THOSE WERE ONE-TIME San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, and now Martinez – whose own career began with the Giants’ long-time arch-rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As Martinez said several times, it has been 32 years since Marichal got into the Hall of Fame (after being rejected for a few years because of a violent outburst involving Dodgers catcher John Roseboro). For all we know, it may be another 32 years before another Dominican gets into the Hall.

Even though there are so many Dominicans (about 10 percent currently) playing Major League Baseball, there are those who express their resentment and want to diminish their role.

Martinez even made his visual gift for all the Dominicans (including several government officials) who made the trip to upstate New York to see the ceremonies) by having Marichal join him in waving about the Dominican flag.

AT RED, WHITE and blue, it is all-to-similar to the U.S of A. colors that would have made him appear to be a patriot. Although listening to his induction speech, Martinez also threw in enough plugs for this country giving him a chance to move ahead in life.

Which ought to appease any of the nativists of our society who otherwise would want to claim he should be favoring this nation instead of any other.

As one who enjoys seeing the growing numbers of Latin American ballplayers because they maintain the standards of the U.S. major leagues as the world’s elite, it makes me wonder if Martinez has a point when it comes to that “32 year” wait.

Because there are times it seems when certain fanaticos de beisbol are determined to downplay the role of Latin American peloteros. I remember when one-time Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa was considered a Hall of Fame shoo-in.

SOMETHING ABOUT THAT six-season peak where he exceeded New York Yankees great Babe Ruth in his prime, and he managed to top the 600-home run standard that should have made the 2013 Hall of Fame class an elite combo of Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Who knows if Sosa will ever overcome the taint of the “S” word and get Hall of Fame status? Or will just slink into the minutia of baseball trivia as one of the many Dominicans who came to this country to play baseball since Ossie Virgil became a part of the New York Giants back in 1956. Including Martinez’ brother, Ramon, whom scouts initially thought would be the better of the two, and to whom Pedro offered plenty of praise on Sunday.

Martinez also says he hopes we can view his playing career, “as a sign of hope for a Third World country, for Latinos” and somebody sports fans can be proud of. Maybe even Canadians – for whom he gave a plug for baseball to someday return to Montreal.

Creating yet another team that can knock the stuffing out of Chicago ball clubs on any given day.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who knows what exactly is legal with regards to government being able to reform its pension funding mechanisms

There were partisan political people who clapped with glee, so to speak, when the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the measure that state government tried implementing to reform the way it covered the cost of pension programs for retired workers.

NOVAK: Created more work for Rahm
It was, after all, a measure that now-former Gov. Pat Quinn got credit for implementing. The people who were eager to dump him were ever-so-happy to be able to say that Quinn was inept and incapable of revamping the mess.

THEY CERTAINLY HATED the idea that he’d have to receive praise for fixing a long-lasting problem whose origins date back so many decades – so far back that it is nothing but wrong to place the blame on any one political person.

They all deserve the blame – regardless of what political party they belong to.

And it’s obvious our state government officials don’t have a clue what they need to do to ensure that the cost of providing the pensions for retired state workers and educators across Illinois (except in Chicago proper) doesn’t wind up consuming ALL of the income state government has.

That may actually be a plus for state officials these days; the lack of a state government budget for the fiscal year that began 25 days ago means they now have an excuse to not be concerned with the pension funding problem.

SO WHAT SHOULD we now think of the pension funding problems that exist within city government; where an attempt by city officials led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel got struck down Friday by a Cook County judge?

EMANUEL: Needs a new solution
Could it just be that any attempt to impose a scheme that limits retirement benefits to something government officials think they can afford is going to fail?

Could it be that the wise one in all this is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle? The county has its own problems and shortfalls to overcome, but has done nothing because they want to see if some other government can come up with the model solution for them to follow.

It would seem that the county has a long way to go – since nobody seems to have come up with the solution.

THE STATE HAD tried passing a measure that would protect the pension benefits already accrued, but would encourage changes in benefits for future work done so that it would not come to quite the same amount of cost.

Whereas the city said it tried to negotiate some changes to get support from the future city retirees who will be counting on that money to ensure they don’t live their “golden years” in poverty.

PRECKWINKLE: Waiting for guidance
Judge Rita Novak wasn’t swayed, saying the Illinois Constitution provides for an “enforceable obligation” to pay retirement benefits.

It would be odd if the same state Supreme Court that struck down the state pension reform plan were to take it upon themselves to overrule Novak’s ruling and say that the city actually got it right.

IT HAS ME wondering what solution, if any, is going to someday be determined to be acceptable to the courts.

Because something is going to have to be done, and it is already long past due. This was an issue in need of a solution years ago – and the fact that the efforts made thus far to fix the problem have been struck down means the problem only gets worse and worse.


QUINN: Not the only failure
I understand why the labor unions that represent government employees are all concerned and willing to fight to the death, so to speak, on this issue. Part of the perk of having a government job is gaining something resembling a passing retirement plan.

If they didn’t offer that, many of those workers would have found more gainful employment elsewhere during their working lives – and we’d probably have great difficulty finding the current level of workers willing to put up with the bureaucratic nonsense that some people want to impose because it fits their own partisan ideals.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Must we relive Election Day ’92? It wasn’t that interesting 1st time around

PEROT: Looks good next to Trump
I must confess; I actually gained a bit of respect (sort of) for Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot – but only because Donald Trump comes across as a bigger buffoon than the big-eared would-be politico ever was.

For Trump made it seem like he expects to fill the same niche that Perot filled some 23 years ago when he made his initial presidential bid.

REMEMBER HOW THE 1992 presidential election cycle came down to George Bush (the elder) against Bill Clinton, with Perot deciding that the public needed to pick someone else – and that somebody was meant to be him?

TRUMP: No ears, but bigger ego
There are those people who, to this day, claim Perot was the deciding factor – stealing votes away from Bush and resulting in the two terms of Clinton as president.

Of course, I’d argue that a guy who only got 19 percent of the popular vote nationally and was unable to win the Electoral College in any state wasn’t that much of a factor.

Perot inspired a certain segment of the electorate that usually is politically apathetic to actually get off their duffs and cast votes for president. Without Perot on the ballot, Bill Clinton still would have won, but the voter turnout would have been a record low.

SO WHAT’S MY point in reciting this mini-history lesson? It’s just that it seems we’re going to get the same circumstances arising come the 2016 election cycle.

CLINTON: The better half?
A Clinton (as in former first lady Hillary) against a Bush (as in presidential son and brother Jeb). With a rich guy with an over-bloated ego deciding he’s running for president as well.

That is what Donald Trump has become – just a slightly more urban version of a rich buffoon who thinks he’s entitled to his wealth and anyone he can buy off into thinking he has a clue.

The Hill newspaper out of Capitol Hill in Washington reported that Trump says he’s inclined to back away from his talk of running for the GOP nomination for president because the Republican National Committee isn’t showing him the kind of respect he thinks he deserves.

BUSH: Erasing the taste of W?
IF HE RUNS as a political independent, he can go about saying or doing whatever he wants without anyone letting him know he’s become an embarrassment to the people whom he would theoretically be representing.

Then, Trump wouldn’t be stuck in a field of 16 (including himself, thus far) Republican candidates. He’d be the lone wolf.

Although I think it would expose Trump for the political weakling he truly is. His roughly one-quarter of the Republican vote that polls show he has would actually be ridiculous.

Since the rest of the party would wind up backing the resulting party winner – which could be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

HILLARY VS. JEB, with Trump also taking some votes. I could envision exactly which kind of people would bother voting for the man who thinks the whole world needs to be branded with the “Trump” logo (Would the White House become the Trump Mansion?).

It may well be the nativist element with a particularly irrational hang-up concerning Mexico – the ones who think that Trump made some legitimate point with his trip to Laredo and who are delusional enough to think an impenetrable wall can be erected.

MEZVINSKY: The first grand-daughter?
And perhaps the ones who don’t trust Bush (the Third) because he married a Mexican woman; making the potential first children Mexican-American by ethnicity.

A truly xenophobic campaign that would wind up being more goofy and embarrassing to the nation than anything Perot ever said or did.

IT MIGHT ALSO be the element that ensures we get the concept of “President Hillary R. Clinton” and Charlotte Mezvinsky as the “first granddaughter.”

Unless the Democratic Party side of the electorate decides that Clinton has campaigned unofficially for so many years that they’re now tired of her before they ever get a chance to experience her.

A topic for another day’s commentary, to be sure!

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thome helps keep Legislature busy

So just what DO our state legislators do with their time when they’re not addressing the lack of a state budget for the current fiscal year?

There was a bit of a stink a few weeks ago when the General Assembly managed to pass the measure that declared corn to be the official state vegetable for Illinois. Some from people who argue corn isn’t a vegetable (it’s a grain), while others just think it is a totally pointless thing to do.

WILL THESE SAME people come crawling out of the woodwork in coming weeks when the state Senate will be asked to consider a measure designating a portion of U.S. Route 24 in Peoria as the Jim Thome Highway?

As in the same Thome who included a few seasons of his professional baseball career with the Chicago White Sox and hit his 500th Home Run of his career in the White Sox pinstripes – although the 600-home run milestone was achieved while he wore the dingy and dumpy uniform of the Minnesota Twins.

The measure already has come before the Illinois House of Representatives – where it was approved without opposition earlier this week. Hey, the legislators had to do something to justify their per diem payment to cover their living expenses to be in the Illinois capital city to NOT approve a state government budget.

Unless Chicago Cubs fans who serve in the Illinois Senate decide to get more ornery and cranky than usual (that’s what a century of losing does to you) and refuse to vote for anything that honors a White Sox player?

WHO’S TO SAY!?! Although it should be noted that the general concept of the Thome Highway was already in a separate measure the Senate considered – one sponsored by state Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap. He being the Republican nominee to replace Aaron Schock in Congress.

Does anyone think Chief Wahoo looks better in bronze than Old English "Sox"
I doubt he wants to have his final Springfield act be a dissing of Thome’s reputation. That could cost him big-time in the Sept. 10 Election Day.

Not that this measure was meant to honor Chicago in any way. Thome is a Peoria-area native who graduated from a Bartonville high school and played baseball briefly for Illinois Central College before signing with the Cleveland Indians organization where he played a significant portion of his career.

600 home runs not enough for Hall?
Which means, sadly enough, that if Thome’s 600-plus home runs is good enough to get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., someday, his bronze plaque likely will depict him in a cap bearing that ridiculous-looking “Chief Wahoo” head instead of the Old English “Sox” logo.

IF YOU THINK I’m kidding that 600 home runs isn’t enough for recognition, keep in mind that Sammy Sosa’s Chicago Cubbie glory days are no longer considered Hall of Fame-worthy, even though he also achieved that immortal standard.

But even if Thome doesn’t make it, he now will be able to say he has a highway named in his honor in his hometown. It may even be an excuse for White Sox fans to find an excuse to visit the city – if only to get their pictures taken with a Thome Highway sign in the background.

Thus far, Thome seems to have a reputation for being a ballplayer who didn’t use anabolic steroids to bolster his strength and baseball career.

Unlike people like Sosa and Mark McGwire, the one-time St. Louis Cardinals star who back after his 1998 stretch of 70 home runs that season had the interstate highway that leads from Illinois into downtown St. Louis named in his honor.

THAT IS INTERSTATE 70 (Get it!), and I remember when St. Louis officials were tickled pink (the same color that Cardinals uniforms turn once they fade due to age and/or poor laundering) to have the McGwire Highway.

No longer worthy of a highway in St. Louis
But the steroid stories connected to McGwire caused that highway to become the “Mark Twain Highway” back in 2010.

It would seem that the “Thome Highway” will be longer-lasting in Illinois.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

EXTRA: Hot dog varieties more memorable than ballplayer careers?

The one-time proprietor of Hot Doug’s is continuing his trend of crafting varieties of sausages for sale at Wrigley Field, and marketing them by naming them after 1970s-era Chicago Cubs ballplayers.

Not that the Cubs were all that great during that decade. They contended for a few months in 1977, but otherwise usually fought it out for “bragging rights” with the White Sox for which team would play worse.

BUT FOR THOSE people now approaching or just surpassing 50, these were the Cubs of childhood yore. Ernie Banks was gone, and Ryne Sandberg hadn’t come along yet.

The new varieties pay tribute to one-time pitcher Bill Bonham (an atomic pork sausage with cherry marmalade and smoked gouda cheese), Pete LaCock (rib-eye steak sausage with horseradish cream and blue cheese) and Champ Summers (Polish sausage with Goose Island beer mustard and fried onions).

Which makes me think that the hot dogs will be more memorable than the quality of play any of those people showed while wearing the baby blue of the Chicago Cubs.

Unless you get excited over the fact that one-time first baseman LaCock was the son of Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, or that he hit his only grand-slam home run off St. Louis Cardinals star pitcher Bob Gibson?

PERSONALY, I FELT compelled to write this mini-commentary because it gave me the chance to wade through old baseball card images from my own childhood. Nothing else.

Because at $9 per hot dog, I don’t feel compelled to rush out to Wrigley to try one. It must be a Cubs-fan thing.

Because I don’t think any White Sox fan would feel compelled to make a trip to U.S. Cellular Field if there were overpriced hot dogs named for Jorge Orta, Harry Chappas or Francisco Barrios.
 
Even though the Sout' Side brand of baseball was just as intriguing during that decade.

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Poor Little Milorod? Or an unjust crumb bum who got what he deserved?

There’s one part of the Republican attacks on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, related to the state budgetary stalemate that I find downright humorous.

BLAGOJEVICH: Victim? Or still a bum?
Many GOPers keep repeating the talking point that Madigan is a power-hungry tyrant who has gone out of his way to undermine every single person who has served as governor in the three-plus decades he has held his speakership title.

OF COURSE, THEY like to remind us of the early 1990s battles with Jim Edgar (which created overtime sessions that seemed downright historic then but now seem ever so quaint – July 19??), downplay the fact that he and George Ryan got along and even show some sympathy for Pat Quinn.

But what do they say about Rod Blagojevich?

It seems that now, under these circumstances, they’re willing to speak decently about the governor whom they impeached. Because it fits their partisan circumstances now.

As if it was because of Madigan that the mood of state government became ever so ugly; refusing to accept the authority of the first Democrat to hold the gubernatorial post in 26 years.

THAT, OF COURSE, is nonsense. At least the part about Madigan picking on Poor Little Rod.

The reality is that it was a desire by Blagojevich to assert his own authority that caused Madigan to use his legislative power to remind the governor of the fact that the executive branch is only one-third of state government, and that our government truly represents the people who elect it when the three branches work together.

MADIGAN: Who picked on whom?
Perhaps that means the real comparison is between Blagojevich and Gov. Bruce Rauner – who seems like he needs to be taught first-hand this spring about the need for cooperation.

Rauner may have won the November 2014 general election for governor, but those same voters also kept the same partisan political balance in the General Assembly that give Democrats the ability to stand up for the principles they espouse about working people and the labor unions that represent their interests.

BLAGOJEVICH GETS SOME nice talk; until Tuesday at least.

For it seems the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago finally issued its ruling in Blagojevich’s appeal – some 19 months after it was initially filed and argued before a judicial panel.

RAUNER: Blagojevich similarities?
The appeals court determined that five of the charges that Blagojevich was found guilty of cannot stand. Which has some people speculating that the 14-year prison sentence (he’s done about three years thus far) will have to be reduced.

Although I couldn’t help but notice that one-time First Lady Patti Blagojevich expressed disappointment at the decision. For it seems the charges that are no more are more minor and technical.

THE APPEALS COURT wrote in its decision that the remaining charges are severe enough to warrant the full 168-month term in a federal prison. Although the desire had been that the sentence could be reduced by enough that he would no longer be classified as such a serious threat to the public safety and might be eligible to be moved to a federal corrections facility closer to Chicago.

Perhaps he could receive the “Oxford education” that many a Chicago political personage has received at the federal facility in Oxford, Wis.?

One part of the appeals ruling caught my attention – the part that stated the use of wire fraud charges was overdone. All too often, federal indictments come across as multiple counts of wire fraud (or mail fraud) and an act that is not explicitly illegal but which someone in a prosecutor’s office did not approve.

But all of this is bound to bring out the political people who earlier this week were saying Blagojevich is a victim reverting to form and lambasting the former governor; while also speculating about what he looks like since his hair dye has long worn away and he likely now looks his age of 58!

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