Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kelly to get more attention as observer than he would have got as candidate

One of the unofficial rules of reporting I have operated under is not to go about reporting on threats of lawsuits. If they’re serious, let them file the suit.

Perhaps we should have taken the same attitude toward William J. Kelly.

HE’S THE PUNDIT of a conservative ideological bent who during the summer went on and on about how he was going to run for mayor in the Feb. 24 elections. He went so far as to come up with $100,000 of his own money toward his campaign fund – which under state law blows the limits placed on the mayoral candidates to try to restrict campaign finances.

There’s just one thing. Kelly isn’t going to run for mayor after all.

Monday’s deadline for filing nominating petitions to get a place on the ballot came and went without Kelly being among the 10 candidates who plan to run for mayor.

He did issue a statement saying he plans to take the $100,000 in his “William J. Kelly for Mayor” fund and spend it to try to rebuild a Cook County Republican Party structure – which this year couldn’t even come up with token candidates to run for Cook County government positions in this month’s elections.

I DON’T KNOW how much $100,000 will help the party, which was so weak that it wasn’t able to do much of anything to bolster the recent election of Bruce Rauner as governor. The governor-elect had to rely on his own $27 million to get himself elected, without help from the political party whose label he used.

But it’s a start, I suppose. Perhaps it means Kelly can go about claiming he’s the head of the Chicago Republican Party, which reminds me of the old Mike Royko line about being the “tallest midget in the circus.”

He already was claiming that GOP leadership label, of sorts, on account of the fact that he would have been the only mayoral candidate willing to identify himself as a Republican.

Instead, we have 10 Democrats running for mayor – and the breakdown of candidates will be amongst those named “Emanuel,” those who hate the idea of an Emanuel mayorality, and those running because they wish to represent the interests of Chicago’s African-American population.

KELLY AS MAYORAL candidate would have got lost in the shuffle of candidates – particularly because the perception would be that he wouldn’t stand a chance of taking more than 1 percent of the Feb. 24 vote.

He certainly wouldn’t be amongst the Top Two candidates who would be in an April 7 election run-off – presuming that Emanuel (or any other candidate) can’t take a majority in February.

Not that being a Republican would have mattered in the mayoral election.

We in Chicago have had non-partisan municipal elections ever since the mid-1990s when the then-Republican dominated General Assembly approved the change away from political parties to overstep their authority over local matters.

JUST THINK HOW different the 1983 elections would have been if Harold Washington’s 36 percent of the vote had not been enough to win the Democratic nomination, but had merely qualified him for a run-off against Jane Byrne?

Kelly this year would have been as irrelevant as Bernard Epton would have been in ’83 under a non-partisan electoral system.

Which is why it makes sense for him to take his campaign money and try to invest it into building up an alternative political party – which on the surface is a completely noble goal. People are better off if they have choices on Election Day.

And Kelly may actually get a phone call or two of press attention in coming months as a local Republican big-wig, instead of being ignored completely as a mayoral fringe candidate.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson, Mo.: No real surprise, so why the outrage about outcome?

I wasn’t surprised to learn Thursday night that Missouri authorities chose not to indict a suburban St. Louis police officer in the shooting death of an 18-year-old who happened to be black.

In terms of legal issues, the key to remember in dealing with cases involving alleged police abuse is that the law gives police officers the authority to use force and realizes there are going to be times when they screw up.

THE BURDEN OF proof in this case was literally on those who wanted to regard the death of Michael Brown, who was shot to death by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson, as an offense worthy of a charge of murder to prove that the officer virtually set out to kill the young man without any justification.

Merely showing that the officer over-reacted, or acted ineptly, was not good enough.

Which is why county Prosecutor Robert McCullough could say with a straight face Thursday night on national television that no crime took place, and that the people who were screaming for Wilson’s head were acting on bad information.

“It was speculation,” he said. “There was little if any solid information.”

WHICH MAY WELL be true. It is not uncommon in the confusion of a crime scene for details to get twisted about, for accounts to change, and for some people to later be found to be full of it when reviewing the stories they initially tell.

Yet I don’t doubt the sincerity of those hundreds of people who felt compelled to show up in Ferguson Thursday night to picket outside the police station in that suburb; to let it be known they’re sick and tired of having black people singled out for abuse by the people who supposedly are there to protect them.

Although I think in most cases of this type of law enforcement misconduct, it’s more a case of police having an apathetic attitude toward incidents where black people are involved.

Police didn’t care enough to figure out what kind of threat Brown – who allegedly tried to steal cigars from a store – might really be. So a stupid assumption resulted in the man’s death.

PEOPLE SEEKING A sense of “justice” in this case are going to have to settle for the fact that Ferguson municipal government is as cowardly when it comes to perceived wrongdoing as many other governments.

It seems that Wilson will lose his job as a police officer. He’s out of work. For the near future, his name is going to crop up in ways that will make him virtually unemployable.

Yet compared to what some people wanted to see happen, it won’t seem significant enough.

After all, Wilson is the guy who got married on Sunday (to a fellow Ferguson police officer) and had his name cleared (in a legal sense) on Monday.

NO TRUE BILL returned against him for a charge of murder, either first or second degree. Not even for manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary.

I’m taking the same basic attitude about this case that I take toward many stories involving courts and legal issues. I wasn’t there in Ferguson, so I don’t know first-hand what that grand jury heard to make them reach the conclusion that criminal charges would not be justified.

McCullough harped on that point, saying that only the grand jurors heard all the evidence and would know why they came to the conclusion they did.

Yet there was also speculation in the hours and minutes leading up to the Thursday night announcement that prosecutors overwhelmed grand jury members with information during the months they were in session on this case that their primary feeling these days is probably relief that the case is now over.

IT REMINDS ME of that stupid old cliché about the courts, the one that goes “A grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.” Implying that grand juries will do what they are told, because their outcome merely means a case goes to trial – where actual “guilt” or “not guilt” is determined.

McCullough clearly did not want the stink of a delicatessen on his hands. No ham sandwiches were prepared for indictment here.

Instead, our society gets the “stink” of the perception that officials were too eager to clear a police officer, while other people will go out of their way to ignore any thought that such a sentiment could ever occur.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Court ruling not the final say when it comes to pension funding reform

Organized labor is pleased with itself these days; they were able to get a judge to say that the state’s attempt to revise the way it funds pension programs for government retirees was flawed and qualifies as “unconstitutional.”

They’d probably use a more profane phrase to describe the reform, believing that it taps into previously promised benefits that retired state government employees were promised.

THERE ALSO ARE the people who were so eager NOT to vote for Pat Quinn in his recent unsuccessful bid to get re-elected as governor. They wanted to blame Quinn for the reform measure getting passed into law in the first place, and I’m sure they view the ruling of a Sangamon County judge last week as vindication of the justness of their position.

I’m not as willing to consider this issue done. Not by a long shot.

In fact, my reaction to the ruling issued Friday was something along the lines of “ho-hum.” This is a legal battle that is far from resolved. There are a lot of things that could change before we know whether the General Assembly has to start all over in trying to figure out how to close the gap in funds that could cause all of state government to come up short financially.

The ruling by a circuit judge was merely the first step in a lengthy process. No one should be assured of what the outcome of this case ought to be.

IN FACT, THE one positive I saw in the news coverage of Judge John Belz’ ruling was that the Illinois attorney general’s office said it plans to take its appeal directly to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Not having to endure hearings, deliberations and a ruling at the appellate court will save a lot of time – particularly if the state’s high court follows the desires of the attorney general’s office for an expedited ruling.

For the sooner we get the Supreme Court to rule, the sooner we can resolve the funding shortfall that threatens the future of state government – one in which the pension obligations cost so much of the state’s money that the state can’t do much of anything else.

And anyone who watches court activity knows that judicial panels should never be regarded as predictable. Who’s to say how this case will turn out – even though I’m sure the labor interests are convinced the Supreme Court will merely reaffirm what happened last week.

MY OWN THOUGHTS about this issue are to realize how serious it is for officials to act on bringing pension program funding under control; and sooner rather than later. If the high court does wind up striking down what happened in the Legislature a couple of years ago, it means more wasted time.

And the attitude I get from some of the people upset with pension funding reform is that they’re not all that concerned with the financial status of the state – they’d be more than willing to accept the reform measure if they thought their pension could be exempt.

Then again, to someone who has worked a lifetime with certain expectations and who did not spend a lifetime paying money into Social Security, hearing talk of having their “fixed” incomes slashed to make up for past screw-ups by government officials has to be a bit insulting.

So where do we go from here?

I’M NOT ABOUT to predict how this problem will be resolved by the court, or if it will be resolved at all.

Labor interests got a victory in that when the appeal is heard, the burden of proof will be on state government to justify why their reform proposal should be taken seriously – rather than on unions to argue why it should be rejected.

I also suspect that by the time this situation is resolved, nobody is going to be all that pleased!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obama trying to rally support for ‘done deal’ on immigration reform

It will be interesting to see what happens next week in Chicago when President Barack Obama comes to meet with assorted activists and groups with an interest in immigration reform.

White House officials say that Obama, who was in Las Vegas, Nev., on Friday to officially sign the executive order that implements his reforms at an area high school with a high percentage of Latino students, then plans to travel to Chicago.

HE’S GOING TO have Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., with him, which is good because Gutierrez has been outspoken on this issue for years. With Luis at his side, it will be less likely that activist-types will be inclined to question Obama about what took him so long to act on the immigration issue.

Officials aren’t offering much in the way of specifics; other than saying it will happen on Tuesday. We don’t know who he’s talking to, or what exactly he plans to say.

Only that he’s trying to talk up immigration reform – he’s likely to be making appearances all across the country to try to convince the apathetic amongst us that this is a long-overdue move.

Not that there’s going to be any swaying of the ideologue-inspired. The people who have opposed any serious revision to national immigration policy are going to be so hard-core in opposition that they’re spouting out a line of rhetoric meant to spin the public into believing that Obama’s immigration reform goals border on criminal and that everybody ought to share their hatred!

WHICH IS THE only reason Obama feels a need to go public with trying to sway the population about the proprietary nature of his immigration proposal.

There’s no practical reason he ought to do anything.

After all, everything Obama proposed this week in the way of making it possible for just under half of the estimated 11 million non-citizens living in this country without a valid visa is now in place.

The point of executive orders is that they take effect immediately upon the president’s decision – and remain until a future president chooses to repeal them.

YOU JUST KNOW that at least one (if not more) of the Republican candidates seeking the party’s nomination for president in 2016 will campaign actively and openly on the promise that his first act upon being elected will be to repeal the Obama immigration reform order.

By going out publicly to explain his order in great detail, Obama ensures that a significant segment of the electorate will realize that candidate (whoever he turns out to be) is merely spouting off rhetorical nonsense – rather than saying anything that ought to be taken seriously. Even though some are going to argue that he did things backward by seeking support after acting.

So will the Obama immigration policy tour achieve that goal? Or is he merely going to manage to tick off the ideologues even more than they already are with anything Obama has done since he had the nerve (in their minds) to even run for president?

If it comes across like I see this as a purely partisan fight with no real policy implications, you’d be correct. This is one of those issues where most people already have made up their minds, and the presidential opponents are trying to dominate the debate.

IT ALMOST REMINDS me of that baseball cliché about the true significance of a manager to the team – that he’s there to keep the five guys on the team who hate the manager from convincing everybody else on the team that their right about him.

So come Tuesday, and possibly in the days leading up to and after it, we’re going to hear more about this issue. Immigration reform is still long-overdue. There are still individuals in our society forced into the shadows because only a revamp approved by Congress and the president working together would resolve their situation.

For those who think it appropriate that Obama gave his approval of an executive order in Las Vegas because he’s gambling the country won’t turn on him, I’d argue that the gamble would have been if he thought he could get away without doing anything on the issue.


Friday, November 21, 2014

From 11 to 6, rather than 11 to zero. Or, what truly constitutes Amnesty?

President Barack Obama gave his quarter-hour-long address to the nation Thursday night, outlining his intent to revise federal immigration policy despite the desire of Republicans in Congress to do nothing on the issue.

It turned out to be a little more precise than I originally would have anticipated. But I wasn’t that far off in expecting that the Obama proposal he wants to implement with his executive order authority would not be all-reaching.

BY SOME ESTIMATES, about 5 million people will be impacted – out of the estimated 11 million people who now live in the United States without citizenship or a valid visa. You could make the argument that there are still way too many people who will be living in the shadows of our society.

Although to the ideologues who are determined to believe this is impeachable behavior on the part of the president, it will be regarded as too few.

Obama’s policy basically tries to say that people without citizenship who come to the attention of authorities because they are committing criminal offenses would still wind up facing deportation from the United States.

He even wants criminal background checks on people applying for the right to live openly in the United States without risking being deported – so as to show that these really are people who are not misbehaving in this country. Despite the ideologue belief that the undocumented are “criminal” by their very existence north of the Rio Bravo del Norte/Rio Grande.

THERE ALSO ARE the provisions Obama would call for that would permit parents of children who are in the nation legitimately to remain. No more of the splitting up of families – which is the big reason institutions like the Catholic Church come out in favor of immigration reform.

Personally, I thought Obama threw in quite a bit of law-and-order type rhetoric and references to the “rule of law” to try to appeal to the ideologues who want to claim that people here without a visa are being disrespectful to U.S. law.

Even though one can argue legitimately that the bureaucratic mess and contradictions that exist in immigration policy now are the reason many find it next to impossible to get the visa.

Not that I expect anyone who is ideologue-inspired to take any of this talk seriously.

THESE ARE PEOPLE who are inclined to be hostile to the president on this issue regardless of what he says. The people who now are going to be talking about government shutdowns, presidential impeachment or any other hostile actions would have been doing so regardless of what Obama said Thursday night.

I did find it interesting to hear Obama use the “amnesty” word by claiming that current immigration policy is the real amnesty because of its inconsistency. I’m sure that alone will manage to offend the ideologues amongst us.

As does the fact that Obama said the desires of social conservatives on immigration issues goes “contrary to” the ideals that our nation allegedly stands for.

Telling the so-called “real Americans” (at least they’re foolish enough to believe they are) that they’re being “un-American” is something that surely will draw blood – so to speak.

AS FOR THE notion that Obama doesn’t have any authority to behave in the way he’s doing on this issue, I’ll be the first to admit that it would be preferable to have Congress pass some sort of plan that then got presidential approval.

At the very least, it would be lasting. Unlike this immigration proposal that could easily be revoked by the whim of a future president. Unlike the idea of health care reform, which is something we’re going to have for some time regardless of how much the ideologues rant about its evils and try to abolish it.

I don’t expect they’ll do so, but if Republicans were serious about the issue instead of trying to demonize all immigrants as “dirty Mexicans” ("¡Besame culo!" is my response to them), their response would be to come up with an alternate immigration reform plan that would supersede any Obama executive order.

But they won’t. We’re going to get as-yet unstated punitive actions against Obama by the new GOP-dominated Congress. And the American people (not just the undocumented amongst us) will be the ones who suffer from the inactivity to occur.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

EXTRA: If Obama didn't appear on network TV, did he really speak?

WTTW-TV was the best local bet to catch President Barack Obama's address to the nation concerning immigration reform.

The local PBS affiliate aired the speech live during its "Chicago Tonight" program, then had a two-person panel -- Kathleen Arnold of DePaul University and David Applegate of the Heartland Institute -- give their quickie, instant analysis.

OF COURSE, THERE also were WGBO and WSNS, the Chicago affiliates of the Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo networks respectively, with the former preempting a portion of the Latin Grammys program to carry the presidential speech that lasted about 15 minutes in total.

People with access to cable television channels could also check out the national-oriented news channels if they wanted to see the speech. I also saw several other places offer a chance to watch the address on their websites -- including the Chicago Sun-Times, to name one.

The point being that people who were interested in hearing what the president had to say had several options to pick from. So it probably wasn't the biggest of deals that none of the major networks chose to air a presidential address that will be key to comprehending the final two years of the Obama administration.

Yes, the White House has made it clear Thursday night they're upset that neither ABC, CBS nor NBC preferred to keep their standard prime time programming in place.

ALTHOUGH TO TELL you the truth, I'm not sure what any of those networks would have added to our understanding of the immigration reform issue.

Besides, after seeing how on Election Day, only independent station WGN-TV chose to give any early airtime to initial vote tallies and analysis (the other stations waited until their late-night newscasts before doing any reporting), I'm to the point where I expect next to nothing from local news broadcasts.

If you really want some detail about what this proposal could mean, you probably will have to turn to the newspaper accounts that already are turning up on various websites by now.

Either that, or go in search of yet another station carrying old "Friends" re-runs that bolster the stations' financial bottom line.


Will anybody be pleased with presidential action on immigration?

President Barack Obama will be in Las Vegas Thursday, where he is to make public his proposal to implement at least partial immigration reform despite the hostile objections of ideologue-inclined Republicans.

As one who has an interest in the issue of our nation’s immigration policies, I’ll be waiting to see what the president has to say tonight.

BUT WHILE MANY political pundits and observers are getting all worked up over what they’re claiming will be a grotesque abuse of political power on behalf of people they’d sooner see removed from the nation, I’m wondering if the result of what we get is going to be something so weak and miniscule that “lame” would be the most accurate way to describe it.

Of course, doing anything at all will offend the ideologues. So to be honest, I don’t care what they have to say later Thursday and in coming days and weeks. They’ve been upset ever since the day Obama first considered running for president. There’s no pleasing them.

Thus far, Obama has refused during his presidency to push for serious immigration reform. Republicans in Congress have made their opposition known, and Obama has been willing to defer to them.

That is why the growing Latino population in this country is becoming less and less supportive of the president. Although to be honest, it should be said that the strong shares of the Latino electorate that Obama took in 2008 and 2012 election cycles were more about showing contempt for the Republican challengers than any real support for Obama.

I WON’T BE surprised if any GOP response to what Obama does Thursday night will wind up offending Latino voters to the extent that they will back whomever Democrats nominate for president over any Republican candidate!

But what will the president do? I honestly believe he’s still going to try to cater to the opposition’s hostility by crafting a proposal that will be miniscule and impact as few individuals as possible.

Thus far, Obama used his “executive order” powers to protect from the threat of deportation young people who were born elsewhere, but have lived the bulk of their lives in the United States. I have heard one theory that he could extend such protection to their parents.

Which is nice; it’s cute. But it’s still far short of fixing the bureaucratic mess that is our immigration policy. There will still be many millions of people being impacted negatively. All because some people want federal law to reinforce their own personal ethnic and racial hang-ups, rather than serve the nation’s needs.

THE COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION reform measure that has been discussed in Congress for years is the way to go because it would resolve the mess in one shot – rather than piecemeal. Having congressional action and presidential approval would be best for a permanent solution.

The flaw of an executive order is that any future president can repeal it at his or her whim. And you just know there will be an ideologically-inclined future occupant of the White House who will make it Priority One to do so.

Which would put a few million people in an even more precarious position than they are already in! That would be the ‘negative’ that the Latino electorate would be inclined to hold against the Obama administration’s legacy.

Admittedly, it is better to see Obama take some sort of action on Thursday rather than do nothing – which is the advice way too many conservative-oriented political observers want him to follow because it means their interests prevail.

BUT DEPENDING ON how wide-ranging his latest action will be will determine whether or not the president is doing the right thing.

Because the last thing anybody in our society needs is some sort of presidential action meant to create a political talking point that allows Obama to say he did something on immigration reform – without actually creating a policy that benefitted anybody.