Saturday, December 31, 2016

EXTRA: St. Sabina marches on MI Av.

The protest. Photograph provided by Faith Community of St. Sabina
The Faithful of St. Sabina parish on the South Side came to the Magnificent Mile on Saturday to try to force all of Chicago to address the reality of the number of homicides, which the Chicago Sun-Times reported as totaling 778 but could increase in coming days if a last-minute incident results in fatalities.

How will Michigan Avenue crowd respond to so visual homicide protest?

I remember a time some three decades ago when I covered a protest march in the District of Columbia – one that passed through the upscale Georgetown neighborhood.
PFLEGER: Leading 100s on 'invasion' of Mich. Ave.

To be honest, I don’t even remember what the “cause” was. But what stuck in my mind was the reaction of people who thought they were out for a good time Saturday night, only to find the sight of all these great unwashed peoples ruining their time.

I REMEMBER BECAUSE I tried to interview several people who were spectators; none of whom wanted to talk, all of whom seemed confused about the point and probably felt like their night out was spoiled.

This comes to my mind because I won’t be surprised if there’s a similar reaction to a protest march being planned for Saturday night – also known as New Year’s Eve.

For Rev. Michael Pfleger of the St. Sabina Catholic parish in the Auburn/Gresham neighborhood plans to come downtown Saturday. Although he’s not headed here in anticipation of consuming too much alcohol and doing a countdown early Sunday to the beginning of 2017.

If anything, his count will be up – and one that I’m sure he feels is going up too high. Although I suspect many of us are going to try to downplay its significance.

HIS ‘CAUSE’ RELATES to the homicide rate for Chicago during 2016. We won’t know until early next week what the final tally will be, but it would seem we’re going to have a higher rate than any year since 1997. We’re likely to have something like 760 to 770 people killed during this year due to urban violence.

Now I know in the past that I have mocked the people who are getting worked up over the homicide rate increase, primarily because I remember back some three decades ago (the late 1980s, to be exact) when the homicide rate for Chicago would fall just short of 1,000 people per year.

Although I have to concede that getting into the 700s (and having some naysayers way too eager to point out how close to 800 we are) is a problem we ought to be concerned about.

One death attributable to violence by another human being is a tragedy for the family impacted. Having so many hundreds of families having to endure these circumstances is truly embarrassing for our city.

PFLEGER PLANS TO try to illustrate the number with his protest march, which is to have people bearing two-foot-high crosses with the names of each victim – marching in a parade along Michigan Avenue. It’s going to be a visual sight – one that I’m sure will make many of the New Year’s partygoers feel a bit squeamish.

And probably will cause some to try to dismiss Pfleger in the way they usually do – just another loudmouthed troublemaker, and when is Cardinal Blasé Cupich going to get around to giving him the boot!?!

As though Pfleger is the problem because he points out what we ought to regard as the problem – but which too many of us ignore because there are large swaths of the city where urban violence isn’t a problem.

It becomes way too easy for people to think of the violence as something that doesn’t impact them, and most likely is something that only affects “those people” who just can’t learn to live like civilized human beings.

YET BEFORE ONE gets the impression that this is a diatribe, consider that many of the people who are eager to highlight the city’s homicide rate have their own political agenda – in many cases to make “those people” look bad in their own minds. Which makes it easier for them mentally to commit all kinds of impersonal actions against them.

Particularly when it comes to political activity – the oncoming era of the Trump presidency is going to be particularly harsh and the people most eager to see it happen are those of a certain racial perspective.

There are so many statistics and mathematical formulas that can make many other places appear to be more violent than Chicago – even though some will want to cite the lower tallies for New York and Los Angeles this year as some sort of be-all and end-all on the issue.

Which means the sight of all those crosses Saturday night are going to be something of a reality check – even though many of those who see them will probably try to convince themselves that it really didn’t happen. They just had too much to drink!


Friday, December 30, 2016

EXTRA: Only 95 more “shopping days” ‘til baseball’s Opening Day

I sit here in a Midwestern winter chill eagerly counting down the days until baseball’s season for 2017 resumes activity.

And not just because I want to see some live game action – I also want the recurrence of warm weather. One of the reasons that baseball is the best game, it’s played in the best weather conditions – even though I’m old enough to remember the snowfall of ’77 when the Chicago White Sox kicked off the season (and existence of the Blue Jays) in Toronto.

YES, I FIND this countdown to be much more pleasant than the one already existing on the Internet by which you can be informed of just how many more days remain until Election Day 2020 (1,403, to be exact).

The idea of a pitcher’s duel, or even a sloppy slugfest, comes across as much more interesting than anything having to do with feeding into Donald Trump’s ego any more than it already is over-bloated. Particularly if it is accompanied by a Polish sausage and a scorecard -- which I invariably will be the only person in my section of seating who can actually fill it out!

So it is 95 more days until the baseball season begins April 2 with the New York Yankees traveling to Tampa, Fla., to play the Rays, who get to kick off the season because this year is their 20th season of existence.

Other teams begin play the next day, with the White Sox kicking off the season against the Detroit Tigers, while the Chicago Cubs venture off to St. Louis, where the Cardinals will begin their ’17 quest to prove to the world what all their fans seriously believe – that the Cubs’ World Series title of 2016 was the biggest of baseball flukes!

OF COURSE, SOME of us might find it hard to wait three more months for meaningful baseball.

In which case, keep in mind that we’re only 33 days away from the beginning of the Caribbean Series – the week-long tourney beginning Feb. 1 that will give us a baseball champion from Latin America.
Counting down the days 'til I can sit out here again and watch baseball

Or there’s the 69-day countdown to the beginning of the World Baseball Classic, which pits against each other the national teams of 16 countries with aspirations of wanting to claim to be the best in the world.

But then, if none of this is appealing to you (although I can’t help but wonder why), then there’s always the old standby countdown – only 359 more shopping days ‘til Christmas!


$1.6 million? Rahm's a political pauper, at least when compared to Gov. Bruce

The reports were in the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday – Mayor Rahm Emanuel has managed to raise some $1.6 million from various sources during 2016 – which gives him a nice chunk of change to start off his re-election fund he will need three years from now.
EMANUEL: Labor wants Rahm back in '19

It makes me feel old to admit that I remember a time when I’d be thinking that made Emanuel overwhelming and dominant and someone who could not be messed with on Election Day.

YET WITH THE modern circumstances, I have to admit my initial react was to think to myself something along the lines of, “$1.6 million? What a cheapskate!”

Largely because it was just a week ago that Gov. Bruce Rauner juggled some money around his political bank accounts so as to provide $50 million for the fund he will be relying upon for his 2018 re-election bid.

Of course, there is one difference. Rauner is looking not only to get himself re-elected as governor, he also wants to be able to help out in the campaigns of various candidates for the General Assembly.

Because the biggest problem (at least as he views it) for Rauner is that he has had to deal with a state Legislature that does not agree with any of the measures he wants to impose – and has been more than willing to tell him to stuff it!

A GOVERNOR RAUNER paired up with the existing legislative circumstances will result in no significant change. There also are, of course, those people who would say that dumping Rauner himself is the key to breaking the deadlock.

All I know is that Rauner is making it clear he’s more than willing to use the personal fortune he amassed as a venture capitalist in order to keep the post that cost him some $65 million to win back in 2014.

It’s really a sign of how the business-oriented folks want government to look out for their interests over all else, to the point where they’re now willing to run for office themselves. Because they saw that political people couldn’t be trusted – they might actually put the needs of the electorate above all else.
RAUNER: Makes Emanuel look like a pauper

So Rauner juggled about the funds and now has an intimidating financial base from which to campaign. It may well take a J.B. Pritzker (of Hyatt Hotels fortune) as the Democratic challenger in order to be able to match the Rauner funds.

ALL OF WHICH makes the Emanuel campaign fund appear all-the-more miniscule. Of course, Emanuel won’t have to go through as competitive a fight as Rauner will.

I don’t doubt someone will come forth in 2019 claiming to be a candidate of the people to challenge the political pomposity that is the Emanuel persona. But once he makes it past the primary, he’s in.

Unlike Rauner, who will have to focus primary attention on making sure no wiseacre Republican thinks of challenging him, then taking on the Democratic political structure of Chicago and Illinois.

Which is what is largely responsible for the Emanuel money.

THE CHICAGOLAND OPERATORS Joint Labor-Management PAC and the International Union of Operating Engineers local 399 political education fund both gave the maximum amount of cash they could for this year to the mayor, and likely will come up with more money in future years.
PRITZKER: Can he match Rauner' s money?

Of course, those labor interests likely will be devoting some significant attention to the Rauner race as well – because dumping the governor would be their highest priority, perhaps even more than helping Emanuel come up with so much cash that he scares away any potential challengers.

And now that they see the $50 million figure that Rauner has concocted for himself, they’re going to have to get busy on trying to help any aspiring gubernatorial challenger match it.

Because money has become far too significant a factor in determining just whom we vote for on Election Day. Particularly when too many people vote knee-jerk for whichever name they most recognize from all the televised campaign ads they see trashing one another.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Has Chicago become an island of sanity in “red” sea of bigoted nonsense?

My initial reaction to the Election Night results across the nation were to feel fortunate that Illinois, with Chicago in particular, had proved to be a bastion of sanity.
There's a reason we now flip the "bird" at this building
While the bulk of the nation seems to have gone goofy over the notion of Donald J. Trump capable of being in charge, it would appear that we have maintained a bit of sense. Or we’re not caught up in the stupidity prevailing elsewhere.

THAT ATTITUDE GOT reinforced after I stumbled my way Wednesday through the nation’s news reports, what with the attitudes of bigotry being on the rise seeming somewhat scary. I feel fortunate that we don’t have things as blatant in Chicago as in elsewhere.

And before you snicker at my naivete, I know full well the history of Chicago (it was here that Martin Luther King, Jr., got hit in the head with a brick) and the attitudes that still prevail. I know full well there are those parts of the city where certain types of people ought not seriously think of entering – unless they’re looking to provoke an outburst!

The report that most intrigued me was a Washington Post report about the situation in Whitefish, Mont. It seems that the mother of a prominent white supremacist activist/writer has opened a business there, has white supremacist activists taking her up as their pet cause!

The activists are upset that many local residents of Whitefish don’t like having her around and would prefer she get lost! As in leave, sell her property, and donate a chunk of the proceeds from the sale to a civil rights organization of their choosing.
Wishing they could be spared nonsense

ALL OF WHICH has neo-Nazi activists inclined to want to go to Whitefish to engage in protests on behalf of the mother – whom it seems doesn’t really know much about her son’s activities and isn’t really the kind of person who’d naturally be connected to these Nutzis.

The situation has become so heated that Montana’s governor and attorney general, along with senators and representative, have all signed a letter expressing their support for the locals – and against any white supremacist activity deciding to use their state as the site of their efforts to assert their control over the situation.

I’m old enough to remember when would-be Nazis wanted to march in Skokie and know at heart that they really weren’t interested in expressing any view – it was about intimidation.
It was all about intimidation, not expression, back in '77 in Skokie
They wanted to wear their swastika armbands and get up close to those older residents who had come to this country in the years following the German Holocaust. As though implying that the day would come when they’d be back in a death camp – and this time, they wouldn’t come out alive!

NOT THAT THESE nitwits would have ever been capable of pulling this off. Just as I doubt that these crackpots wanting to visit Whitefish would really be capable of forcing themselves on the local residents – whom it seems don’t want their town to carry a racist taint.

Which is what some of these activists now carry considering that they feel emboldened by the presidential victory of Donald J. Trump – whom no matter how much he says otherwise got elected through their political support. For Trump to deny the fact comes across as ridiculous as those neo-Nazi types who try denying that Jewish people were harassed back in the Germany of the 1930s.

Then, there are the ongoing legal proceedings concerning Dylann Roof. He’s that South Carolina punk who thinks he showed how much of a man he really is by walking into a black-oriented church and opening fire – killing nine.

Roof has been found guilty and could face the death penalty. Prosecutors already have their list of witnesses they want to call to try to persuade jurors to grant a death sentence.
ROOF: Sees self as hero. Will anyone else?

BY COMPARISON, ROOF said in court Wednesday he’s not planning to call anybody to defend himself. Although he does want to make a statement in court.

Likely to be some self-righteous bit of nonsense he’ll spew about the propriety of his actions. In his own mind, he’s a revolutionary who was taking action to fight for the same cause that was advanced with Trump’s political victory.

For all we know, he’ll go to his death strapped to the gurney with the lethal injection going into his veins – thinking that history will remember him heroically.

Which may be the most tragic part of the Trump political victory – is that it reinforces the nonsense these kind of people like to spew about our society. And that while not every person who backed Trump with their vote can be classified as “racist,” it can be said that they’re willing to look the other way at the repulsiveness of the people whose side they’re now on!


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Could Obama have beaten Trump? We might as well argue ’05 Sox vs. ’16 Cubs, it won’t happen in reality

I’m trying to figure out who’s the bigger nitwit at the White House these days – the guy who’s on his way out or the one who soon will be in; and probably is envisioning a bonfire of all the building’s belongings on the grounds that they’re contaminated by the touch of the previous occupant.
OBAMA: Could he beat Trump? Maybe!

Seriously, I can’t help but find the whole “debate” a trifle silly about whether Barack Obama would have beaten Donald Trump in a head-to-head election.

THE BRAWL WAS inspired by Obama saying he would have beaten Trump if he could have run against him. Obama tried to raise the intellectual level of the discussion by saying how he thought Hillary Clinton was too timid and perhaps didn’t properly address the harsh level of attacks she drew from Trump backers.

But the simple fact is that Obama did NOT run against Trump. He couldn’t have. The U.S. constitution makes it clear that every president since John F. Kennedy has been ineligible to serve more than two terms of his own.

Obama’s eight years are nearly over. He had his chance, and it is time for the nation to move on.

One can make a serious argument about whether the direction the country is taking is one of incredible stupidity and pettiness, but it is the direction we are headed in. Those with a problem ought to be devoting their efforts to working to ensure that great harm does not befall the nation just because Donald J. Trump has an overbloated ego.

SO IT REALLY doesn’t matter much whether we believe Obama could have won again. Reality reflects that he solidly defeated John McCain and Mitt Romney and had his eight years in office – which will come to its end on Jan. 20.

Reality will also show that those eight years were thwarted largely by a partisan policy set forth by Republicans that certainly was not willing to put the good of the American people ahead of their own political leanings. But that is a shame that many of these Republican officials will have to live with.
TRUMP: Biggest presidential ego? Of course!

We talk about the legacy of Obama. The GOP legacy of this era is one of pure obstructionism.

Which means that when now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his goal was to make sure Barack Obama was a one-term president, we ought to consider that he failed in that attempt. In fact, Obama’s approval rating during the week of Christmas this year (according to the Gallup Organization) was 56 percent.

THAT MAY BE the basis for which Obama thinks he is loved by enough people that he could have won another term. Although I also think there are those who are willing to like Obama – now that they know he’s on his way out!

Trump, of course, is using his latest Tweet from a twit to say “No way.” Or actually, “NO WAY!” The man seriously believes he’s beloved. Not fully appreciating that it is the quirks of the Electoral College that made him president, and that his presidency will carry an asterisk bigger than anyone would dream of putting on Barry Bonds’ home run records.

I say that because I note Trump’s 46 percent of the vote. That’s 54 percent against him, and a potential butt-whuppin’ if only Clinton had been able to take it all – instead of splitting it up with the Libertarian, Green and other fringe presidential candidates.

I don’t know who would have won an Obama/Trump brawl – it’s possible that Trump could have got the bigot vote worked up enough into making this election cycle a “race war” of sorts even more than he actually did. The very people who are publicly saying they will turn on Trump if he doesn’t follow through with all the rancid talk he spewed during the campaign.

BUT THAT IS so theoretical. Thinking about it would give me a brain cramp bigger than the majority of this country experienced back on Nov. 9 when we learned Trump REALLY WAS likely to become president someday. Thinking about it is a waste of our mental capacity, and our time.

We’d be better off arguing whether Superman would beat up Batman, or vice versa.
The winner?

In fact, if we’re going to have theoretical debates for which there is no definitive answer, I’d just as soon argue whether the ’05 World Series-winning Chicago White Sox really would knock this year’s World Series-winning Chicago Cubs flat on their backs.

Because at least that debate would likely be held while consuming a beer or two by sports fans, and wouldn’t be inclined to result in a brawl by someone convinced he’s defending the honor of his “race” by defending the name of Ivanka’s daddy.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

EXTRA: No more for 'mystery' woman packing flamethrower and an M-16

I still recall a moment from a bus tour of Chicago I once took – not one of those floofy types of tours with a double-decker bus where we see the Hancock Building and other downtown structures.

This one was of the Calumet area of Chicago on the Southeast Side, and I still remember at one point our bus was passing through The Bush when the guide pointed out a dumpy little storefront at 85th Street and Burley Avenue – telling us that it was used as a set for that 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”
SURE ENOUGH IT was the building that once had the sign on it identifying it as the “Curl Up and Dye” hair salon – which appeared in one scene where Carrie Fisher (who was the mystery woman out to kill John Belushi’s “Jake Blues” character) was reading the field manual for the proper way to use a flamethrower.

Just one of several weapons she burnished during that film (ultimately relying on an M-16 military-style assault rifle for the scene where she finally caught up with Jake, her one-time fiancé who had spurned her).

As a native of the nearby South Chicago neighborhood, it always amused me to think that Fisher (who by that point had already given us her hair-bun adorned performance in Star Wars that most people are remembering Tuesday as the high point of her career) was actually once in The Bush.

Which was, at its peak, a neighborhood for the people who actually lived in the nearby steel mills that used to exist, and now is a place for their extended families who for whatever reason haven’t been able to move on with their lives.

NOT EXACTLY THE kind of place that would be expected to have a Hollywood-style tinge to it. Although the nearby 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River is the one that will forevermore live for the scene where the Blues Brothers drove their car over its open expanse.

That is what popped into my mind when I learned Tuesday that Fisher, who was 60 (which is barely older than I am), died from complications due to that heart attack she suffered during the Christmas holiday weekend while riding on an airplane.

Fisher, who appeared in, and directed, a string of films during an interesting career that also included authoring some books, is no longer with us physically. Although her memory will live on through the output of her work -- which really does consist of more than just an absurd hairdo or a "gold" bikini -- that we’ll be able to check out for decades to come.

Then, there's the great unanswered question -- is Fisher's mystery woman character now traversing the heavens in search of Belushi's "Jake Blues" still seeking revenge? Or does Jake finally "do right" by his woman, and they spend eternity happily ever after?


We’re back in the mess again! That short-term budget deal ends Saturday

Remember how our state’s public officials came up with a temporary solution to their inability for a year to pass anything resembling an operating budget for state government?
The mood of the Statehouse turns as black as this Turn of the Century postcard come Sunday

Temporary because it only provided a budget for the first half of the state’s fiscal year. Come the second half, we’d be right back in the same mess of a situation that we’ve been in since the arrival of Bruce Rauner as governor who seems more concerned with messing with organized labor rather than actually governing the state.

WELL, THE MESS has arrived. Because the half-year for which there was a spending plan in place ends as of Saturday.

Sunday is not only the beginning of a new calendar year, it is the end of the time period for which that short-term budget covered.

And because that short-term budget didn’t make anything resembling significant cuts (it pretty much kept everything at a status-quo level even though it was clear to everybody that somebody was going to have to take a hit financially), we’re even deeper into the mess now than we were back in May or June.

In fact, I’d argue we’re so far deep I wonder if it is possible for us to dig our way out.

BECAUSE THE LATEST circumstances is we have our officials refusing to even meet to consider negotiations toward a spending plan that would keep state government operating.
Can't we just say both Rauner ...

In fact, the only real movement on the issue is as the various factions try to orchestrate circumstances and spew rhetoric meant to imply it’s the other guy’s fault.

We’re into placing blame. Pointing fingers. Trying to spin things so as to avoid having to take blame for the mess that our state confronts these days.

There is no “winning” this situation. At least not in any way that doesn’t wind up imposing greater harm on the Illinois electorate – who in theory are the very people for whom the government officials are supposed to be working.
... and Madigan are stubborn?

THERE’S A REASON that government is semi-jokingly referred to by its practitioners as “doing the people’s business.” It’s supposed to be about us, not them.

Now I’m going to concede that for something to happen, everybody is going to have to give something up to a degree that everybody will feel like they lost. Years from now when they see how little things have changed, they’re going to look back and wonder why anyone thought the chaos we’re seeing today was ever worth it!

Although for those people who want to play partisan politics and claim it’s all Mike Madigan’s fault, keep in mind that he is representing the interests of a significant segment of Illinois society.

You really want to know how to get rid of Mike Madigan as Illinois House speaker? Just have him make the concessions that Rauner has been demanding of him and you’ll see how quickly people turn on him. There are those who are fully convinced he IS sticking up for their interests.

AS FOR RAUNER, I always thought his “turnaround” agenda was a lot of bunk – particularly because it went so counter to the mood of the state as a whole. There was no way he should ever have expected the General Assembly to go along with his desires.

Or at least the Legislature as it has been constructed in recent years.

So when Rauner spends time (and money) trying to work toward electing more sympathetic legislators come 2018, that I get. That I comprehend. I don’t agree with it, but it is a responsible reaction – maybe he’ll get lucky and be able to impose his changes in an altered partisan political situation

Until then, his stubbornly putting a hold on the ability of government to operate does nothing more than create chaos – and could wind up backfiring if it turns out that the only person people in Illinois despise more than the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives is none other than Rauner himself.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Blagojevich wants a commutation? Is he better off asking “President Trump”

If there were truly a sense of cosmic justice in our political world, President Barack Obama would choose to do absolutely nothing with the request by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich – who’d like it if Obama would grant Milorod a “Get Out of Jail, Free” card.
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me out now!!!

It was reported last week that Blagojevich, who currently is serving a 14-year federal prison term and isn’t scheduled for release until 2024, filed a request with the president for commutation of his sentence.

WHICH IN BASIC language means that Obama would decide the time Blagojevich already has served at a federal correctional center in Colorado is sufficient punishment for his criminal conviction.

In short, he’s begging that he be released from prison now and that he be set free at age 60 – rather than having to continue rotting in a prison cell until he hits age 68 – as is currently scheduled.

Personally, I don’t expect Obama to actually grant Blagojevich his request. But there is a sense in which I think it would be so apropos if Obama were to somehow manage to lose track of all the final actions he has to take care of before Noon on Jan. 20 – which is the time at which his presidential authority ceases to exist and the clown show to be known as the Trump presidency begins.

I actually think that Obama acknowledging the request would be much better than Blagojevich ever granted back in the days when he was our state’s governor and had his own powers of clemency and pardon to grant as he saw fit.

FOR BLAGOJEVICH WAS one of those people who believed he didn’t really want to be bothered taking the time to consider criminal cases.

Perhaps it dated back to his days just out of law school when he was an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County – meaning he had a certain respect for the legal process and presumed it wouldn’t be right for him to do anything that would undermine it.

Or maybe Blagojevich just had a lazy streak when it came to such issues.
OBAMA: Will he 'Blago' Rod's request?

For whatever reason, during the six or so years that Blagojevich was governor – he only ruled on about 1,000 clemency petitions. At the point in time he was impeached, there were some 3,000 cases left unresolved.

THIS WAS JUST a man who didn’t want to be bothered.

As it was, Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor went on to become Gov. Pat Quinn, and he would up having to deal with the backlog, ultimately issuing decisions on nearly 5,000 clemency requests (and granting about 1,800 of them).

The backlog didn’t really get caught up until our current governor, Bruce Rauner, who earlier this year issued a statement saying the state was finally caught up – although Rauner wound up rejecting all but 3 percent of the requests he ruled on.

That might be a cold-hearted view for a governor to have, but the reality of clemency is that it is up to the whim of a particular governor. It makes me wonder how many cases might have had a chance of being considered IF ONLY Blagojevich had got off his duff and taken this particular duty of his office a bit more seriously. Because it is understandable that when faced with an overload of cases, the chances of all of them getting a legitimate viewing decreases significantly.

ALSO, IT’S NOT like Blagojevich is asking for a pardon – which would mean a clearing of his record AFTER he served the entirety of his prison sentence. He wants to get out early – even though federal judges have already ruled his 14-year prison term isn’t overly harsh (despite those of us who think it is a tad too long) in a purely legal context.
TRUMP: Would he rule better for Rod?

Does anyone think that Obama, who was never that close with Blagojevich during the time that the two of them were colleagues, of sorts, on the Illinois political scene, would actually be inclined to grant anything to him. Particularly for all the flack he'd have to take publicly if he were to even consider such a request!

Considering that Blagojevich considered Obama to be a rival who stole public attention he thought ought to be rightfully is, Obama’s reaction to this request could well be a sign of how much bigger a man he is.

Although I still think the proper reaction might well be for Obama to do nothing and leave Rod’s fate to the future president – a fat chance that would have any chance of succeeding.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy holidaze! Now get your behind away from the Internet, have a real life!

We’re in a pretty intense holiday weekend; not only is it Christmas Eve and Day, it’s also the beginning of the Eight Days of Hanukkah and we’ll soon be in Kwanzaa.
Best wishes to you if you happened to have chance to pass this holiday decoration on your way out of town for the weekend. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda

A holiday for just about any faith or occasion one would want to celebrate. And boy, do we need it.

FOR WE WENT through a hellish campaign cycle that particularly dragged out the ugliest of tensions that separate us in our society. We definitely need something all around to alleviate such hostile feelings – particularly for those who saw the final election results come out this week and still can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton could clean Donald Trump’s clock by some 2.9 million votes.

And still lose!!!

So it is with even stronger-than-usual feelings that I say anybody actually reading this commentary on Saturday or Sunday needs to get a life. Log off the computer or whatever device you happen to be using to access the Internet and go do something in the real world. Celebrate. Be merry, jolly or downright joyful.

There is nothing that will be in the blogosphere during this holiday weekend of any great significance that you can’t wait until Monday to read all about it.

ALTHOUGH FOR THOSE of you who just need to see something visual before logging off for the day, I’m digging out a couple of audio/video links on off-beat Christmas-themed songs.
It's also the beginning of Hanukkah on Saturday. Or does mentioning that fact constitute "war" on X-mas (whose spelling that way is the truly offensive act).
I always get a kick out of hearing Chuck Berry’s take on “Merry Christmas, Baby.” I always find Celia Cruz’ Spanish-language version of “Jingle Bells” (“Soy Feliz en la Navidad,” when translated en Español) to be cheerful.

Then there’s always that old cartoon take of “Hardrock, Coco and Joe” that many of us Chicago natives remember seeing as kids while watching “Ray Rayner and Friends” on television just before the holidays.

I pick it because it was always a particular favorite of my brother Christopher, whose lack of presence in my life the past year continues to leave a sore spot for me emotionally.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Cancel Christmas -- subversive idea, or one more true to meaning of holiday?

A Facebook “friend” of mine (as in someone who used to be a daily part of my life but whom I haven’t seen face-to-face in years) posted an intriguing thought Thursday – cancel Christmas and instead donate whatever money you’d have spent to a charity.
Does this sight make you feel merry as you leave (or return to) Chicago? Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

I’m sure there are some people to whom the very thought of “cancelling” Christmas is something they’re going to find repulsive – they’ll probably think this is part of the ongoing “War on Christmas” that they perceive because some people have the nerve to acknowledge there are other holidays of religious significance that occur around this time of year.

BUT THERE IS a part of me that does find the idea intriguing enough to wonder if it would actually be more in the spirit of Christmas to think of what you can do to make others happy – rather than the usual gift-giving orgy.

It also catches me at a holiday season which I will be the first to admit will be a bit more low-key than some Christmas celebrations in the past.

With both my brother and mother gone and my father having converted to Judaism, I don’t have immediate family with whom to get all worked up over images of Santa Claus or repeated watchings of little Ralphie wanting the BB gun, then nearly shooting his eye out, in “A Christmas Story.”

While my father and step-mother do always include me in their Hanukkah celebrations, this year is also taking a turn because of scheduling conflicts.

WHILE THEY WILL do the ritual of lighting the candles on the eight nights of Hannukah beginning Saturday night, the actual celebration where family gets together and there will be some gift exchanges is being put off until some time in January.

Even then, there aren’t any really young children in that part of the family. So watching kids get all anxious to open presents is something of the past.

So the idea of doing something of a more charitable nature is an idea swirling about my head. Although being able to pick a single charity with which to do something of significance is something I’d have to think long-and-hard about.

I suppose I could make several small donations and claim to have spread my good will around. But then I’d hear the spirit of my brother, Christopher, telling me that I’m being a cheapskate by not doing something truly significant for somebody.

THIS HOLIDAY SEASON will be a lower-key one, and perhaps that is to be expected with the passage of time. I can’t envision the holiday ever meaning as much to me in life as it did back when I was something like eight or nine years old.

So perhaps the idea of “cancelling” Christmas is something to be considered.

Although it wouldn’t truly be cancelling Christmas as much as the idea of downplaying all the trivial nonsense that is associated with the winter holidays and that we have been bombarded with by retailers since back before Halloween as they desperately try to get us to buy, buy and buy any many consumer goods as possible.

Which may make for a Very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah or a nifty Kwanzaa for retailers – whom I’ve always suspected view the holidays as something created for the betterment of their financial bottom line. They probably thought “A Christmas Carol” (everybody with sense knows British actor Alastair Sim is the only real "Ebenezer Scrooge") was a wonderful story UNTIL that Scrooge character got all soft and wimpy after being visited by all those Christmas spirits.

THE REALITY IS that the commercial atmosphere cheapens the holiday to the point where the idea of taking a pass on the consumerism almost feels like a celebration more faithful to the real purpose of these holidays.

There has to be a more serious reason for the celebrations people are going to do this weekend than whether or not my niece, Meira (she’s soon going to turn 14) actually gets the Timberland-brand boots she has been hinting at wanting for months now.

Besides, I suspect that whatever I actually wind up doing Saturday night into Sunday will wind up being more relaxing, which is something I can actually use following what has been a chaotic year.

A chance to chill out, at least until some editor somewhere makes a frantic call to me saying there’s empty space somewhere that needs to be filled, and I’d better get off my duff and write something to fill it so that an advertisement promoting post-Christmas holiday sales can be sold right next to it!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Illinois no longer growing ‘too slowly,’ it’s losing a few misguided individuals

I’m never sure just what to make of the Illinois population figures.
Too many view this sign in rear-view mirror

Our state was at an all-time high in this decade – although the recent estimates released this week indicate we’ve dropped a few people during the past two years.

BUT WE’RE ON the decline in terms of political representation, largely because other states can show larger population growths in percentages compared to Illinois. And since the number of members of Congress is a set figure, those states  have to get a larger share of the total.

I take as an example the official Census Bureau population count from 1960, when Illinois had 10.11 million people living here – of which some 3.5 million were residents of Chicago proper.

Compare that to the most recent official population count (taken in 2010) that showed Illinois with 12.83 million people (of which about 2.7 million were city residents, but when the suburbs all get added in put the Chicago metro area somewhere in the area of just over 8 million people.

Of just whom more than half bothered to cram their way into Millennium Park last month for the official Chicago Cubs Finally Won Something in Our Lifetimes celebration (if you believe the Cubbie propaganda).

BUT THE ‘NEWS’ that came up this week was the unofficial estimate the Census Bureau released of the nation’s population – an attempt to reflect on recent changes, even though the next official population count won’t be until 2020.

Illinois, which supposedly peaked at 12.88 million people in mid-2013, has since dropped by some 37,500 people. We now unofficially have 12,801,539 people who live in our state.

It’s no longer a matter of Illinois isn’t growing fast enough compared to southwestern states. We’re actually losing people.
Is this view really more pleasant? My feet were firmly planted on Illinois soil when I took this photograph of Indiana.

Which already has the political geeks out there ranting and raging and trying to assess blame! It’s Madigan’s fault, say the Bruce Rauner people. Because naturally, everything is the fault of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
They'll miss it after they're gone!

MY GUESS IS that if the Cubs fail to repeat as World Series champions during the upcoming 2017 season, we’ll hear that it’s Madigan’s fault.

While others are equally quick to spew the trash talk that it’s Rauner’s fault. After all, the drop has begun about the time he began his gubernatorial campaign and term.

We’re supposed to believe that the 37,500 former Illinois residents all fled because they’re tired of our partisan political brawls. They want to live in a place where political people behave like grown-ups.

Fat chance finding such a place! My own observation is that political people in general have a touch of ego, mixed with arrogance and seasoned with a lack of intelligence. Illinois isn’t unique in that regard.

PERSONALLY, I’D BE inclined to think the weather is more of a factor in terms of people wanting to leave this state, or the Midwest in general. Except that the weather here during the winter months has always been absurdly cold, and it didn’t stop the growth of the past.

Even if it were, then I’d have to say we’re better off without those so weak-willed that they have to have a perpetual 82-degree and sunshiny temperature in order to survive.
Just think of those people who won't be on hand in that future year when we get an all-Chicago World Series and the White Sox achieve ultimate victory over a certain other ball club.

I know personally, I don’t have any interest in leaving the area – even though I do some work these days that takes me across that not-quite impenetrable barrier known as State Line Road and over into Indiana. Even into what some people regard as the depths of Gary – the one-time Steel City, the City of the Century or the Murder Capital of the Nation (even though it really isn’t).

All I know is that every time I do my business, I always feel a certain twinge of relief every time I drive back along Interstate 80 and see the back of the sign marking the Illinois/Indiana border. Because it means I’ve returned to the Land of Lincoln where things make sense – even if it means some 37,500 people are too clueless to realize that!


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Illinois likely will have to set common standard for all for minimum wage

The Cook County Board a couple of months ago voted to gradually increase the minimum wage for suburban-based companies to pay their employees, hoping in part it could jolt the Illinois General Assembly into taking action.

Yet it seems that all that has been created is a certain level of uncertaintly – that and a sense that Cook County could become a checkerboard, of sorts, of having to keep track which municipalities require their businesses to pay better than others.

FOR WHILE THE county board imposed a standard that will gradually increase the minimum wage in Cook County to $13 per hour by 2020 (similar to the already-enacted Chicago City Council measure that boosts the minimum wage from the current $8.50 by 2019), it would seem there are places that just don’t want to go along.

Earlier this month, city officials in Oak Forest (a southwestern suburb near Orland Park and all those shopping malls) passed a measure opting out of the county-enacted minimum wage requirement.

Local officials weren’t eager to spew all kinds of hostile rhetoric against paying workers a decent wage (although the argument can be made that some types of work aren’t worth as much as others). But their votes to opt-out spoke loud enough.

Although it contrasts with the actions of Calumet City, a suburb that borders up both against Chicago proper and the Illinois/Indiana state line (it also happens to be the community I lived in while growing up).

THERE, CITY OFFICIALS voted to create a referendum question for the April 4 municipal election ballot.

Voters in Calumet City will not only pick a mayor and aldermen (most likely returning long-time officeholder Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush as mayor even though state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, is contemplating challenging her), they will decide “yes” or “no” on whether the minimum wage ought to go up to $15.

Which, by the way, is the dollar figure that activists across the country are calling for in their own efforts to try to make jobs at Burger King or Wal-mart into something that a person could earn a living at – instead of just taking in some extra money.

The Chicago-based Centro de Trabajadores Unidos issued a statement Tuesday praising the south suburb for taking their action, and even including provisions that the minimum wage would apply to all workers – including those in the restaurant industry.

CONSIDERING THAT I had a mother who, for the bulk of her life worked jobs either as a waitress or cashier (the best job she ever had was her last, as a supermarket cashier because it provided her a health insurance package along with her minimum wage salary), I’m fully aware of how restaurants don’t have to pay their help much.

The argument is made that the waitresses get money in their pockets in the form of tips, which is the reason why I always make sure to leave a respectable gratuity for the people who serve me. And look down on those people who try to claim they’re making a profound statement by not tipping – even though all it really means is they’re cheap!

Now I don’t know how the residents of my former home city will vote on this referendum (or if they’ll be like many other municipality voters and decide this election cycle isn’t worth their time). But I wonder how many people would express some support for this issue – if given the chance to comment.

Because I’m also sure that Oak Forest-expressed attitude, which was largely influenced by the city’s chamber of commerce, is coming from businesses that will view a higher salary as merely a blow to their financial bottom line.

SINCE I’M AWARE of other municipalities that have also considered an opt-out – Elk Grove Village, Barrington, Prospect Heights, Arlington Heights, Barrington Hills, Palatine, Wheeling and Rosemont all either have, or are considering, taking similar actions.

Hence, the checkerboard – as in people who have to rely on such work for anything resembling an income will have to keep track of “good” towns to work in and “bad” ones. While I’m sure some small businesses will insist on locating in the latter to bolster themselves financially without having to invest more in their interests.

Which sounds more like a case for confusion across Cook County – accounting for almost half of Illinois’ population when Chicago proper is included. It really is an issue our state Legislature will have to address.

Except that we have the partisan conditions that prevent our state from even approving itself a proper operating budget and a governor claiming his delay is in the name of economic “reform” – I can already hear his objections to the idea of paying the hired help so much as a dime more in salary and this issue being added to the list of grievances the state has.