Friday, June 30, 2017

Counting down to new fiscal year -- where does Illinois go from here?

A part of me is reluctant to write this commentary; yet another piece of copy about the inability of our state government officials to put together an operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that would enable things to run the way they’re supposed to.
 
No one's celebrating this fiscal new year

I don’t doubt there are some of the individual members of the General Assembly who are prepared to vote for anything that would put a government spending plan in place so that the budget-less period of state government would end at two full years.

BUT THE REALITY is that none of those people have the influence to do anything on their own. The leaders, meanwhile, seem to have fallen into a sense of acceptance that this is the way things are.

None of the talk about junk bond status is going to sway them to act. Not the claims by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza that she will be completely out of money to pay state bills some time in August. Not even the thought that people wishing to play the Powerball lottery games will now have to venture over into Indiana to buy their precious tickets will force action – which probably is what most offends the general public.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, isn’t about to concede a thing to the governor – largely because he knows the people who offered their financial support to his own re-election campaigns and those of the individual legislators who combined comprise a majority do so because they WANT him to stand up to Rauner.

Who may well have backed off the most over-the-top rhetoric (such as the “right to work” status for Illinois), but still thinks that the key to governing is to be able to bark orders at a Legislature of the opposition majority and have them do what they’re told.
 
Which of these alleged public servants ...

IT’S OBVIOUS THE man hasn’t learned a thing during the past two years. As evidenced by his public statement earlier this week that he’s prepared to force legislators to remain at the Statehouse in Springfield in special session until they finally pass a budget plan of his satisfaction.

I don’t doubt that Rauner has the authority to sign such an order. Although if he really gets that arrogant, he’s going to learn very quickly how long they can prolong the period of nothingness that we’re now engaged in.

If he thinks the General Assembly has done nothing during the past 10 days they’ve been in special session, he’ll see the legislative activity come to a complete halt!
 
... is the bigger budgetary bully?

And for those who think that is a childish way for the Legislature to behave, consider that Rauner is acting like the schoolyard bully. No matter what perspective one wants to view this situation through, it’s not Illinois at its finest.

NOW I’M WRITING this before the end of state Fiscal ’17. I suppose it’s possible that something could happen in the next few hours that could make it within the realm of reality that our legislators could come up with a budget proposal and approve it by late Friday.

Which would then put the matter in Rauner’s hands – and make it perfectly clear that if the state goes into a third year without a budget, it is his fault.

But the reality is that Republican legislators are sticking by their governor in not wanting to see him embarrassed. Democratic legislators are sticking by their own leaders. This has clearly become a case of political people following the old axiom – “You Dance With the One Who Brung You.” The whole situation had Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, so fed up that she said Thursday she's quitting her post of some 20 years, saying she had "done all I could do" to come up with a budget plan.
RADOGNO: To mock the Hawk, 'She gone!'

Until something occurs that snaps political people out of that mindset, nothing is going to change. We’re going to work our way through a third fiscal year, and possibly a fourth, without a budget in place.

ASIDE FROM THE financial harm that causes, there’s actually something about this that bothers me more. We’re developing a political culture that thinks this kind of absurdity is the norm.
 
Even Molly Ivins knew the old axiom

We might want to think that sense and responsibility must prevail, but we’re developing a political culture that sees a purpose to permitting such irrational activity out of the belief that some higher partisan political purpose is being served.

This is political partisanship at its worst – when it interferes with the operation of government in meeting its fiscal responsibilities.

If that is what winds up extending beyond future election cycles, then we will have achieved a government status that truly has become immoral – and for ways far beyond what the conservative ideologues usually mean when they rant about morals.

  -30-

Thursday, June 29, 2017

EXTRA: A rainy night w/ super heroes

I’m writing this while watching on television the Chicago White Sox finish up their four-game series this week against the New York Yankees.
Bat Man with the White Sox' one-time 'bat' man. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda
Yes, I went to the ballpark Thursday night, and wound up sitting there in the rain for about an hour-and-a-half before finally getting fed up with getting soaked. As things turned out, it took another hour-and-a-half before play began.

SO I’M OUT $20 (what I paid for a lower deck seat right by the left field foul pole). But the evening was still somewhat amusing – and not just for the dancing blonde chick in the next section over who jiggled her booty away non-stop once she realized the stadium camera was focused on her and broadcast her movements to all within Guaranteed Rate Field.

But it was also Super Heroes Day, which drew a large number of “Comic Book Guy” types, some of whom even had kids with them who also were costumed.
Spider-Man w/ Paulie Konerko

There even were the people the White Sox hired to wander about the ballpark in fairly elaborate super hero costumes.

Personally, I found it ironic to see Bat Man pose by the statue of one-time White Sox slugger Frank Thomas – since I still remember the 1997 season marketing campaign that claimed “the Big Hurt” was the White Sox’ bat man.

AS FOR HIS Robin? That was one-time third baseman (and later manager) Robin Ventura!

It was truly a night of people finding every excuse to pull out their camera phones and take all kinds of goofy pictures. Perhaps a chance for people to resort back to the child within themselves. Although there were plenty of others who coped with the soggy conditions by making for a very good night for ballpark beer vendors -- who had significant sales in those early hours before a single pitch was thrown.

Comic books helped make a rainy night more pleasant
My own regret is that I didn’t get a good picture of the “Wonder Woman” who sat in the stands. Her costume was revealing to the point where I felt like I was supposed to reach into my wallet and pay her a few bucks for gawking at her personal parts that were on exposure. My own camera phone acted up, and the shot got blurred in certain spots – almost as though some cosmic force was editing my pictures to make them suitable for family publication.
My $20 view of the ballgame I wound up watching on television
But I did manage to come up with a few humorous photographs, some of which might bring a smile to your faces as well.
The Chicago skyline as seen from the Sout' Side ballpark

  -30-

How long is too long for a ball game?

I recently had reason to go scouring the Internet for a baseball box score for the first ball game I ever went to live – a 1979 battle with the New York Yankees visiting Chicago to play the White Sox.
 
One-time White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec ...

It amazes me the amount of detail I do recall, such as eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Hunter getting knocked out by the Sox within two innings (he went on to retire from the game following that season), a hard-hit line drive double by Reggie Jackson that I still recall as the hardest-hit ball I have ever seen.

AND A GRAND slam home run by Jay Johnstone of the Yankees that ultimately gave the Bronx Bombers an 8-5 victory over the ball club that was two years removed from being the South Side Hit Men.

So what’s of interest in a ballgame played some 38 seasons ago between ball clubs that finished in fifth and fourth place (Chicago and New York, respectively) in their divisions – the World Series that year involved “the Family” of Pittsburgh beating on the Baltimore Orioles?

What caught my attention was a tiny little detail at the end of the box score – listed down there with the attendance (a near-capacity crowd of 43,373 tickets sold) and the umpires for the game.

It was 2:19. That’s not a biblical verse. It’s the amount of time it took to play nine full innings of baseball on a sunny, but chilly, day in April of ’79.
... took on Hall of Famer Hunter many years ago

I’M PLANNING ON going to the White Sox game to be played Thursday night against the Yankees, and about the only thing I’m sure of is that when we’re two hours into the game, we’re not going to be anywhere close to being finished. Tuesday night’s White Sox 4-3 victory over the Yankees took 3 hours, 25 minutes to play.

Major League Baseball games may have managed to cut themselves down a little bit from the 2014 game length average of 3 hours, 8 minutes (last year, games averaged 3 hours, 26 seconds each).

But I’m going to be honest; I don’t recall anything significantly brief or prompt about that first game all those years ago. We have managed to drag down the pace of play to the point where many people have been lulled into thinking what we have now is somehow normal.
Foley achieved highlight in promptly-played game

I also found it odd the way that when the White Sox paid tribute a week ago to now-retired pitcher Mark Buehrle, several people went out of their way to offer up their praise for the way he used to be capable of pitching efficiently to the point where his games could last ONLY two-and-a-half hours on average.

IN SHORT, BUEHRLE would have been the norm back when I was a kid. Now, he gets great praise for doing what everyone used to be capable of doing. It also helped to reinforce the point that when Comcast Sports Chicago chose to rebroadcast the 2009 no-hit perfect game Buehrle pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays, the total broadcast took barely over two hours to complete.

I’ll be honest – the current pace of play is such that around 10 p.m. Thursday night, I’m going to be thinking seriously about whether I need to leave the ballgame early to catch the proper commuter trains to get back home.

Or will seeing the entirety of a ball game be worth not actually getting home until about Midnight?

Now I know there are some baseball fans who argue that the issue of a game’s pace is overexaggerated. They claim they’re baseball fans, and they want MORE game for their money. So who cares how long it goes, or if some games can approach the four-hour mark in length.
It wasn't Cocoa Puffs the Comiskey scoreboard went cuckoo for

PERSONALLY, I HAVE always thought that a quick-paced ball game is a well-played one. A game that drags out is usually one where the pitching stinks, the defense is bobbling the ball about and the sloppiness of play has overtaken everything.

For what I pay these days to get a ticket to see a major league ballgame, I’d want to see something of quality. That doesn’t mean artificially drawn out.

It even produces memories such as the first time I ever actually saw the Comiskey Park scoreboard go cuckoo with the fireworks and light show for a Sox home run. Catcher Marv Foley hit one of the 12 home runs he ever hit during five seasons of playing major league ball – and he did it off a future Hall of Famer.

Maybe Foley and I are the only ones who remember the shot. But it is moments like this that make baseball fun to watch, no matter how much some people want to muck it up with games that drag out forever.

  -30-

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Trump’s ‘travel’ ban to create a national headache of international proportions

The Supreme Court of the United States is allowing President Donald J. Trump a political victory of sorts, saying they will hear arguments on the legitimacy of the “travel” ban on people from certain select countries with overwhelmingly Islamic populations.
 
TRUMP: Loopier world leaders? Sadly!

This is seen by more sensible people as Trump’s ham-handed way of trying to keep certain types of people out of the country – and perhaps a first step toward eventually deporting the ones like them that already exist here.

SO THERE IS concern from some here that the nation’s high court this week altered the previous rulings from federal appeals courts that said the president’s executive orders on the issue – which were amongst his first actions as president – were overstepping.

Of course, I’ve also heard from some law school professor-type people who say that this is the high court’s way of knocking the issue down. Since the Trump executive order only called for the restrictions to be in effect for 90 days.

Meaning that by the time the high court hears arguments on the case come its autumn work load, the order’s impact will already cease to have existed. If the high court rejects the idea, it will be like it never really existed in the first place.

Except that the presidential order put out the symbolic impression to the world that we’re headed back for isolationist ideals of the past – which might not be so bad except that it’s also clear Trump expects to maintain the international influence that the U.S. carries on issues.

USUALLY, THE PRICE of having such influence on foreign affairs is seen as having to get involved in the world’s problems. It’s as though Trump thinks he can bark orders at world leaders without having to carry any of the responsibility usually involved.

Does Trump really think the whole globe is a television set for “The Apprentice” where he can shout out “You’re Fired!” at anybody and everybody he wishes – and think that they’re obligated to listen to him?

Personally, I’m curious to see how this order gets implemented, because the high court did impose some restrictions. It seems the only people who are banned outright from being able to enter the United States are the ones from the certain countries in the Middle East who cannot document some sort of personal tie to someone who already is in this country.

Sound simple and straightforward? Of course it isn’t, and only a fool would think it is.

BECAUSE THERE ARE going to be so many interpretations of just what constitutes a personal tie.

Does it have to be a blood relation? Just how close of a relation does it have to be? Suppose someone can show a third- or fourth-cousin tie to someone in this country whom they’ve never met?

What about instances where people’s families have personal ties to other families and would want to offer up support? I can envision some pretty loose claims being put forth by those people wishing to enter the United States – many coming from countries where the level of insanity is so high that it is the so-called “crazy” people they’re trying to escape.

Pretty sad if you have such a lot in life where coming to a country with an electorate loony enough to pick Donald J. as its leader is an improvement, yet sadly enough, that is the case for some people.

IT’S ALSO GOING to become complicated by those bureaucratic types who will want to take on excessively strict interpretations of what a close tie to a U.S. resident actually means.

We’re talking about immigration, where there are those in our society who are all for keeping out anyone not exactly like themselves, and who view many legitimately married couples as not worthy of being in this country.

I’m sure the coming few months (beginning Thursday, which is when the new Trump executive order will take effect) are bound to produce tales of horror and woe caused by some bureaucrat whose nativist tendencies will run amok.

And even if the Supreme Court ultimately chooses to knock down Trump’s tendencies (never a sure thing), we’re bound to get a few anecdotes in the near future of our nation giving in to its worst tendencies.

  -30-

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Keeping busy in, and out of, the Capitol on everything except a state budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner got his share of criticism Monday for traveling to Iowa, of all places, to partake in an event that critics say cannot go anywhere because of the lack of a balanced budget for state government.

Yes, Rauner attended an event with his gubernatorial counterpart from Iowa – the two of whom were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge along Interstate 74 that crosses over the Mississippi River.

WHICH MEANS THAT it is at a point where it connects the two states. Making it relevant for Rauner to be on hand in Bettendorf, Iowa – a part of the Quad Cities metro area that comprises western Illinois cities of Rock Island and Moline.

He’s getting blasted by Democratic political operatives who say it is wrong for the governor himself to not be at the Capitol at a time when the two sides of state government are supposed to be doing whatever is necessary to avoid having the current fiscal year end Friday without a budget.

But much of that rhetoric is inspired by the fact that Rauner himself is going about trashing Dems for not blindly going along with the proposal Republican operatives put forth to settle the budget quandary.

Meaning this trash talk is about as silly and irrelevant as his own trash talk.

A WHOLE LOT of nothingness being spewed in hopes that something sticks – although I suspect that anybody with intelligence will see it all as a whole lot of nonsense.

Because I couldn’t help but be amazed, and somewhat repulsed, by learning of the activity that was taking place at the Capitol, where it seems the Illinois House of Representatives voted to approve a resolution urging Illinois to join 12 other states and Puerto Rico to support the U.S. Climate Alliance.

That would call for Illinois to support goals of the Paris Climate Agreement; a set of standards meant to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

How nice and noble, and perhaps the Sierra Club was well-intentioned in issuing a statement praising the Illinois House for taking their action. Although I can’t help but see it as a distraction from what ought to be the sole purpose of the Legislature being in session this week.

GET THAT DAMNED budget approved so that our state can go back to operating in as normal a manner as possible. Even with a budget in place, it will take time – possibly years – before the state’s finances are back in proper working order.

But so long as we’re in an operating mode in which some agencies and programs can’t do a thing while others are gobbling up the state taxpayer dollars because they have federal court orders requiring them to continue, our spending truly is out-of-whack.

Similar to the person who blows their rent money on a night out on the town, or perhaps on a load of illicit drugs. Then again, perhaps we’d need to be drugged out of our minds to think that the status quo that has developed during the past two years is in any way acceptable.

Or that worrying about the U.S. Climate Alliance in the form of a non-binding resolution is in any way a useful means of spending time. It’s about as silly as Rauner’s Iowa trip – although I suppose it could be argued that getting him out of the way for a day gave legislators of both political parties a chance to do some serious work.

WHICH IT SEEMS they chose not to do.

I have no doubt we’re going to see Friday come and go, and the new state Fiscal year 2018 will begin and we’ll have a third year of governmental inertia with regards to our finances.

All of this is creating a mood of unpleasantness – the Cook Government Report said last week that Rauner is the “most vulnerable” incumbent seeking re-election in 2018 and declared the Illinois governor campaign to be a “toss-up” instead of “leaning Republican.”

Although the real nightmare scenario may well be that we’ll get a campaign season full of rhetorical nonsense, followed in November 2018 with no significant shift, and FOUR MORE YEARS of the same partisan trash!

  -30-

Monday, June 26, 2017

Taking pride in not going to parades?

I didn’t go to the Pride Parade held Sunday. I’m also likely to ignore the slew of parades that will take place in a couple of weeks related to the upcoming Independence Day holiday.
The parade route I chose to ignore

None of this is intended as a political statement of any sorts. It’s actually that I just don’t get any enjoyment from the idea of a parade – regardless of what the event or cause is that’s being celebrated.

SOME PEOPLE LIKE the spectacle. They take a certain sense of glee from the largesse put on display to celebrate whatever cause happens to be the reason for a parade.

Personally, I find it to be a lot of noise and racket and standing around doing nothing while other people go marching by.

And quite frankly, if you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all. There’s no reason to relive the experience.

So I didn’t feel compelled to head up to Boystown – that sub-neighborhood that combines with the Wrigleyville set (gay people wishing to live openly combined with Chicago Cubbies fans) to make the Lake View neighborhood one of Chicago’s most unique places to be.

NOR AM I eager to see what many may view as the anti-Pride parade – an Independence Day holiday filled with pomp and circumstance and lots of images of fireworks and explosions and much right-wing rhetoric.

Even though personally, I find much of that rhetoric to be a skewed view of what our nation is supposed to be about. In fact, a part of me thinks that the public spectacle that was the Pride Parade is about as “American” as we can get in the 21st Century.

Even though with all its kitschy value of watching Chicago’s gay community come out into the open will bother some. That very “openness” and willingness to express oneself publicly is most definitely what we as a people are supposed to be about.

Although I’m sure the type of people who comprised the 46 percent of the electorate that voted for Donald Trump to be president are amongst those who were most offended by Sunday and can’t wait until July 4 so they can present their own bombastic view of what they think we, the people, are truly all about.
Is "believing" about fireworks explosions?

NOW I KNOW there are people who claim the Pride Parade is something that everybody ought to experience firsthand – if only for the kitsch that can provide many a laugh for the public.

It certainly isn’t any worse than the garishness of red, white and blue that we’ll be subjected to in nine more days – all in the name of “patriotism” and “America.” Although will be espousing that old hard-hat line of logic – “Love it, or leave it!”

Or, “Shut up, and Do what you’re told!”

Does that make Independence Day the anti-Pride parade for some types of people in our society – the ones who wish we were still back in the 19th Century? Which is ironic, since many of these people are the same ones who criticize certain elements of the Islamic religious faith for refusing to accept the realities of modern-day life.

ARE THEY JUST jealous that our society isn’t still behind the times?

For those who are now ranting and raging about what I’m full of for bad-mouthing Independence Day, keep in mind it’s the garishness that I find mind-numbing.

I have always thought the upcoming Independence Day ought to be the most solemn of occasions -- one in which we respect the ideals of our national existence. Instead, we’re usually more interested in seeing who can light off the most obnoxious explosions into the sky – to the point where I know my father’s dog, Rocco, will wind up barking up a storm come the night of July 4 as he’ll be freaked out by all the, “bombs bursting in (the) air.”

So I’m not into the parade scene, which seems to me to be a whole lot of loitering by the masses. Except nobody felt compelled to call the cops to complain – unless the fireworks being set off by neighborhood kids get real obnoxious next week!

  -30-

Saturday, June 24, 2017

EXTRA: Buehrle, a Sox loss, and now we wait for the Cubano rebuild

The Chicago White Sox drew what could wind up being their best crowd of 2017, what with the ceremonies paying tribute to Mark Buehrle – the one-time ace pitcher who on Saturday had his jersey number 56 retired.
 
From back when he was a Sox 'kid'

No one else playing for the White Sox will ever wear number 56, and Bryan Ward (whose lone victory as a major league pitcher came with the White Sox in 1998 while wearing “56” on his back) will now fade away into history,

YES, THE WHITE Sox’ game against the Oakland Athletics was a capacity crowd, with most of those fans eager to celebrate the memory of Buehrle – who pitched for the White Sox from 2000-11 and was a part of the division-winning Sox teams of ’00 and ’08 and also the ball club of ’05 that gave Chicago its first World Series victory of the 21st Century.
 
Many career highlights for Buehrle

White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf couldn’t help but joke about the crowd, quipping to Buehrle that he might not be aware Sox games don’t average 40,000-plus paying customers per game (actually 38,618, to be exact).

There also was the ball club’s gag after Buehrle’s daughter, Brooklyn, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the team pointed out that her toss was much faster and harder than what Buehrle himself threw at the peak of his pitching prowess.

Then again, Buehrle was always the evidence that successful pitching was not all about throwing balls in excess of 100 mph. Heck, Buehrle himself was the guy who got cut by his high school baseball team in the St. Louis suburbs, was a 38th round draft choice by the White Sox in 1998 and was supposed to be a “roster-filler type” guy who plays a couple of years in the minor leagues before returning home to get on with his life.
No longer White Sox' "No. 56"
LATER HE BECAME one of the "kids" whom White Sox marketing referred to in their "the Kids Can Play" advertising appeal, although he eventually became the reliable workhorse of a pitching staff who worked at a quick pace, making it possible for ballgames to be played cleanly and crisply in just over two hours per game.

As opposed to the just over three hours it took for the White Sox to get through their 10-2 loss to the Athletics on Saturday.
Will No. 79 someday be retired for Abreu?

One where starting pitcher James Shields and five other pitchers had to be used by the White Sox to get through a game to do the duty that Buehrle used to be capable of doing all by himself with regularity.

How far the ball club has fallen – and how rapidly we need the great rebuild and the White Sox’ version of a “Cuban revolution” to be led by current Sox slugger Jose Abreu to occur so as to restore baseball respectability to the Sout’ Side.

  -30-

All it takes is one to create a problem

I don’t doubt that most people give little thought to the concept of Asian Carp.
 
Not far from Great Lakes, where Calumets converge

For all I know, on the occasions they do think about it, they dismiss it as some sort of artificial emergency situation created by intellectual types who have way too much free time on their hands – perhaps similar to the doomsday we were supposed to face on Jan. 1, 2000.

IT DOESN’T SEEM that many people are getting all that worked up over the concept of the Asian Carp – a species of fish that Mother Nature never really intended to exist in this part of the globe. Maybe they think it's what you get when you order Chinese carry-out!

So the fact that scientists inadvertently let them loose into the Mississippi River and they have steadily worked their way upstream is a problem that those scientists get all worked up over. But which elicits a great big “Yawn!” from the bulk of us.

As things turn out, the Asian Carp have worked their way up the river and into Illinois – where they’re alive and thriving in the Illinois River. I recently stumbled across a news report that said the waters around Havana, Ill., have more Asian Carp than any other place on Earth.

Now why should we care about the Carp?

THE FACT IS that the eat everything in sight. They devour all the natural plant life that fish nature intended to be in the area would feed off of. As a result, the types of fish who “belong” wind up being threatened.
 
Lake Calumet a direct path to Lake Michigan

The potential exists for nature to be erased, and replaced with something glutton-ish that was never meant to be!

Back in 2010, an Asian Carp was actually pulled out of Lake Calumet – that isolated patch of area on Chicago’s far South Side that connects directly to Lake Michigan by the Calumet River.

And on Friday, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee said another Asian Carp was caught by a fisherman just south of the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam – which is near Lake Calumet – and clearly within the Chicago city limits.
 
ENVIRONMENTAL AND WILDLIFE types like to talk about those electronic gates they erected south of the city that supposedly kill off any Asian Carp that try to swim too close to Chicago or Lake Michigan. But it also seems at least two managed to figure out a way to get past.
 
Could the Carp someday swim past 95th St. bridge?

Which creates the possibility that many more also succeeded. For all we know, they have managed to get to Lake Michigan proper – and we just don’t know it yet. Or equally likely, they are going to continue to try and the day will come when we’ll have the Asian Carp feeding off the Great Lakes.

Now those who want to think of issues in a partisan way often want to place blame on the Asian Carp issue on Chicago itself. We are the city that back in the 19th Century created the connections between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

Those connections were a large part of the reason why Chicago became the dominant Midwestern city so much larger than places like Detroit, Milwaukee or St. Louis.

ARE WE SUPPOSED to wither away and cease to exist because others allowed the Mississippi River to become tainted by the Asian Carp?

Now I’m not about to offer up the solution to keeping the Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan. It seems we’re doing what we possibly can thus far, and this may wind up being an issue of how things can always go wrong.
Fact that area fenced off causes many to give Calumet lake little thought. All photographs by Gregory Tejeda

All I know is that this issue is one we all ought to be giving greater thought to, rather than thinking of it as something that is occurring down around that lake many of us never pay attention to.

For if we do wind up facing the day of devastation to the Great Lake upon which our city’s existence is so reliant, it won’t be as “ho-hum” an event as it was the day after Dec. 21, 2012 – when the world didn’t come to an end as the Mayans allegedly once predicted it would.

  -30-

Friday, June 23, 2017

EXTRA: Everybody’s spewing a load of bull in the land of Springpatch

Springpatch; it's that mythical place where Illinois political people live in their own little world and the concerns of the real people whom they’re supposed to be representing don’t seem to amount to much.
All gloomy and dank at the Statehouse these days as it was in this century-old postcard image

Springpatch. That’s the place where we wish we could avoid, yet it now is taking over the focal point of our state government operations all because of the nothingness that is occurring there.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY convened again in their “special session” – which former legislator-turned-Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey says  on his Facebook account "aren't very special at all" – for a whole lot of nothing toward trying to craft the operating budget that would allow state government to function properly.

We haven’t had one of those for nearly two full years – and based on what we’ve seen so far this week, there’s no reason to think we’re going to have one by next Friday (which is the final day of state fiscal 2017).

About the only thing that did get done Friday was the obligatory round of statements issued by the political partisan hacks who want us to blame “the other guy” for the whole lot of nothingness that is occurring.

Madigan, Cullerton continue to stall was the headline atop the Illinois Republican-issued statement, while da Dems claimed to be “deeply disappointed” that Republican leaders wouldn’t meet with them Friday “and work (with us) to advance a balanced budget.”

THE BULL EMANATING from the Statehouse Scene made me think for a second that we were in mid-August – the time of year when state officials focus attention on the Illinois State Fair and we get to smell the fragrant aroma of the assorted farm animals on the state fairgrounds.

So do I think that Senate Minority Leader Christine Ragodno and James Durkin of the Illinois House really created a sense of disappointment by not showing up to meet with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan or state Senate President John Cullerton?

No more than I believe the Republican rhetoric that Democrats are engaging in “sham hearings” by refusing to blindly vote for whatever the GOP tells them to do.

This is a problem that will require a true sense of political bipartisanship to resolve. Unfortunately, all we’re getting is some of the most intense partisan trash talk that has ever come from Springpatch.

IT’S NO WONDER that we’re getting such garbage from a place that brings to mind the lame old gag of naming the Illinois capital city in memory of the fictitious hometown from the old Lil’ Abner cartoons.

Because there are times I think our government officials have all the sense of a Shmoo.

  -30-

Nothing lives forever, except maybe in the ball fields of our memories

There are times it seems that Chicago White Sox fans will forevermore live off the memories of 2005, while Chicago Cubs fans are a determined batch to make us all think of 2016 as the GREATEST SEASON OF ALL TIME!!!, what with the World Series they actually managed to win that year.
 
'05 Sox now permanently in past

Yet nothing lasts forever. Both of those baseball seasons are most definitely in the past.

AND EVEN THOUGH some of us would like to have our memories overcome reality, we have to admit that while the championship flags will forevermore be displayed in Chicago, the winning is over.

At least for those of us who focus our attention on what is happening now.

I couldn’t help but be amused by the announcement that Kyle Schwarber, the Chicago Cubs hitter whose return from injury at season’s end gave the team a boost that may well be the factor in them beating Cleveland and winning the World Series, is going back to the minor leagues.

While Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman from Japan whose four-year stint playing baseball in the United States included his performance with the World Series-winning Sox (making him the first Japanese-born ballplayer on a U.S. championship team), is on his way out of baseball.

AS THINGS TURNED out, Iguchi’s U.S. baseball career also included stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres before he returned to Japan – where he resumed playing ball for the past decade.
 
'16 level of play a thing of the past?

He’s now with the Lotte Marines in Japan’s Pacific League, and in fact at age 42 is now the oldest player in the league. As things turned out, his joint Japan/U.S. career saw him get more than 2,000 base hits – making him one of only seven players to achieve that goal.

He’s a Japanese ballplayer who got a taste of U.S. baseball. Although to those of us in Chicago who enjoyed the first local team to win a World Series in this century, he’ll forever be more.

He’s virtually an honorary Chicagoan – that’s what happens when you become a crucial part of a local championship team whose importance goes beyond the .278 batting average with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases he garnered that year.
 
Can Kyle rejuvenate the way 'Mick' did?

TO THE CHICAGO Sout’ Side, he’s as big a name as Ichiro Suzuki – the Japanese star ballplayer who has been playing in this country for 17 seasons now and may well become the first ballplayer to get elected to the Halls of Fame celebrating baseball that exist in both countries.

But Iguchi is now gone, making him the final member of that ’05 White Sox team who was still going to the ballpark to play baseball and getting paid for the privilege. 2005 may be 12 years in the past, but it feels even longer away in the distance.

Then, there’s Schwarber, who got hurt early in 2016, recovered in time for the playoffs and World Series, and had the batting average over .400 and managed to get on base 10 of the 20 times he batted in the World Series.

But that was last year – as much a part of the past as that of Iguchi boosting the White Sox to victory. For 2017, he had a batting average of .171 and had struck out some 29 percent of the times he came to the plate.

THAT BATTING AVERAGE is worse than that of the famed Mario Mendoza, the 1970s-80s infielder who hit .215 for a career, and is considered to be the standard for how bad a hitter you can be PROVIDED you have other positive characteristics.
 
How bad can you hit/still play in Comiskey Park?

Not that it means Schwarber is finished in baseball – even though he’s now a member of the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League. I’m sure Cubs baseball people are hoping he becomes the equivalent of Mickey Mantle – who during his own rookie season of 1951 was sent back to the minor leagues by the New York Yankees following a slow start.

A couple of months of hot hitting (,361 batting average, 11 home runs and 50 runs batted in) and he returned to New York for 18 more years of Hall of Fame-quality play.

So what’s it going to be – Schwarber is the equivalent of “the Mick?” Or further evidence that talk of the Cubs’ dynasty was premature and that ’16 is just as much a memory as 2005?

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

EXTRA: What is Ill. government these days but a whole lot of nothingness

I suppose we could debate who is being more pig-headed (Gov. Bruce Rauner or Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) with regards to the daily operations of state government.
What WOULD Lincoln think of his home state

The governor clearly is trying to pressure the Democrats who run the General Assembly to shut up and do what he tells them to by expecting them to back the budget proposal he and the Republican minority of legislators have created on their own.

DEMOCRATS ARE CLEARLY taking the food they’re being force-fed during the ongoing "special session" and spitting it back in the GOP face, what with the legislative sessions they have held Wednesday and Thursday that barely lasted 20 or so minutes each – and included many no-shows, particularly amongst Senate Democrats who claim they already voted to pass a budget plan and it’s time for everybody else to get on board with them!

It means nothing is happening toward putting together a budget plan that would enable Illinois state government to operate semi-normally. Everybody is busy blaming everybody else for that whole lot of nothingness.

It means that we’re clearly headed for two full years without an operating budget. Nothing is likely to change between now and July 1 (which is the first day of the state’s Fiscal ’18).

The blame game will continue – and yes, it’s likely the Republican Party will continue to issue its daily statements as it has since Wednesday lambasting Democrats for causing problems by not doing what Rauner tells them to do.

IN SHORT, BEHAVING as though Democrats are actually the majority party that controls the legislative process – rather than a minority party with a loud mouth, but little influence.

Which, sadly to say, is what the Republican Party in Illinois has devolved to.

That, rather than anything Rod Blagojevich might have said or did, is what is likely to have Abraham Lincoln spinning over in his grave.

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Redistricting “reform” needs to break into desire of pols to let greed take over

It will be intriguing to see how the Supreme Court of the United States comes down when they ultimately rule on a case out of Wisconsin as to how fair that state’s process is when it comes to the crafting of political boundaries.
So colorful, these boundaries are powerful statements

For as we have seen in Illinois, we go through the once-a-decade spat between the political parties that ultimately ends with a lottery of sorts, a random drawing that determines which political party gets to craft boundaries that advance its own partisan interests while totally messing with the opposition.

I’M SURE THERE are many politically-oriented people who believe this is merely the way things are done – boundaries are political statements and it is absurd to think they can be made neutral. Because even that can become a political statement.

Although some say the situation in Wisconsin was so extreme (GOP Gov. Scott Walker wanted to neutralize the Dem-leaning, progressive tendencies of his state, otherwise his own ideologue tendencies to take on organized labor would have become gummed up in a bigger mess than the budgetary stalemate we now have in Illinois) that something now has to be done to alter it.

My own belief is that many of the states that are most heavily partisan in their political boundaries are Republican-leaning, and they are that way because the politicos know how to protect their partisan interests. So anybody who thinks that redistricting “reform” will mean taking down Mike Madigan as Illinois House speaker ought to take a closer look at a place like Texas.

Where in the Lone Star State the boundaries really are meant to ensure that a white settler-mentality prevails, rather than the people who’d be inclined to remember that Tejas was once a part of Mexico (and the New Spain colonies before that).

AS FOR ILLINOIS, I’m realistic enough to know Republicans really don’t have a legitimate argument about unjust behavior by Dems when it comes to political boundaries. Because I’m old enough to remember the era when Republicans had control of the process, and they behaved just as badly – if not worse.

Much of the reason Illinois leans so heavily Democratic is because it has such a dominant presence as Chicago, which is something that Republican partisans would go out of their way to downplay and neglect to advance their interests.

Which makes it possible for Madigan to make the claim he’s looking out for the interests of his home city in halting those who’d just as soon revert to a mentality that says Illinois is centered around Madison and St. Clair counties (the St. Louis area) rather than Cook and its collars.
Marble halls of high ct. to be mucked up by redistrict reality

For those who wonder how so many people can find it in themselves to back Madigan in political spats, that usually is why.

AS FOR ACTUAL cooperation, there was one instance during my lifetime when partisan leaders were able to craft together a compromise. That was the 1970s – and maybe it was the spillover of love and peace and flower children in the air.

But by the 1980s, Reaganism had clearly erased any thought of working together. We had to resort to the all-or-nothing lottery where Democrats won control of the process in the 1980s, Republicans in the 1990s (anybody remember the two-year time period of “Illinois House Minority Leader Michael Madigan, D-Chicago? I do!) and Dems again in the 2000s.

Technically, the 2010s that we’re now in were an era of compromise, but that’s only because the 2010 gubernatorial election gave us Pat Quinn who signed off on the maps crafted by Dems in the General Assembly.

Democrats can compromise with each other – and the GOPers got ignored. Which actually becomes a key issue for the 2018 election cycle.

A SECOND TERM for Gov. Bruce Rauner would make it impossible for Republicans to be ignored. But considering how budgetary matters are all bogged up, I’d hate to see how the level of partisan hatred will be so high that there’s no chance of the two of them reaching a deal.

It really is about greed – the concept that government officials can do something without having to consider compromise. Which really is antithetical to what our system of government is supposed to be about.

Of course, I’m not sure how the Supreme Court is capable of resolving this situation. They have their own partisan leanings, and if they really tried to undermine Illinois they might well find themselves harming their own interests in other states.

Because, invariably the biggest potential weakness of our political system is that we staff it with people who are politicians at heart. And when we try to staff it with non-political people, we get instances of ineptitude such as “President Donald J. Trump.”

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