Monday, October 31, 2011

Button-gate??!? Please!

It has been just over a decade since the days when I was an Illinois Statehouse reporter, yet I still vividly remember the day that a now-former member of the Illinois House of Representatives called me over to his desk on the House floor.

Gov. Pat Quinn would like to think the Statehouse lingers under a dark cloud (as in this century-old postcard) on account of the "Smart Grid" votes last week. But all he's doing is making himself the butt of various legislative jokes.

Specifically, he wanted me to see for myself the mechanism set up at each legislator’s desk that enabled them to push a button in order to cast their votes on the issues.

WHAT HE THOUGHT was key for me to understand was that there was “a key” – it had to be inserted and turned into the device in order to turn it on and make it possible to vote.

This legislator insisted with all the earnestness he could muster up that he took that key everywhere he went, never gave it to anyone else, and therefore it was impossible for ANYONE ELSE to even think of leaning over and pushing a button on his behalf to record a vote.

I can’t help but wonder how many legislators these days are making variations of the same argument – on account of the fact that this “dirty little secret” of the General Assembly has cropped up yet again.

It is Gov. Pat Quinn who is stirring up this stink – claiming that the only reason he lost on the “Smart Grid” issue is because many legislators were not on the floor to vote when the issue came up. Therefore, somebody voted for them.

THE GOVERNOR HAS demanded an investigation. He throws out hints that somebody deserves to be prosecuted for causing the votes that resulted in the General Assembly overturning his veto of the bill that was so desired by the Commonwealth Edison and Ameren utility companies.

Of course, that just has legislators and other political observers snickering at the governor’s expense. They won, and he lost. Now, the Mighty Quinn is being a sore loser and the only debate is who is being the bigger whiner – the Illinois governor or fans of the Boston Red Sox who still haven’t gotten over the fact that their favorite team wasn’t good enough to even make it to the playoffs this season.

I was not at the Statehouse when these bills were debated and voted upon this week. So I don’t have first-hand information.

But I can recall the scurry of people when votes were taken to either get back to a desk to vote, or to have someone reach around and vote for a buddy (who may have left a key in the device) who sits near them in the legislative chambers.

THERE USED TO be a lot of jokes about all the new laws that got approved because the pages (those youthful kids who are supposed to be fetching papers and sandwiches for the legislators) were present to cast the votes.

What I also recall is the fact that that the ambiance of the chambers of the Illinois House or state Senate is nowhere near as formal or organized as people might want to believe.

It usually is a free-for-all with few people actually paying attention to what is being said by whoever happens to be speaking publicly at any given moment, and people do come and go.

In fact, it often seemed that the only people who were paying any serious attention to the details of what was happening at any given moment were the reporter-types sitting in the press boxes that exist off in the corners of each floor.

SO DO I find it believable when Quinn says a large number of legislators in the Illinois House were not anywhere near their desks when the vote was taken? Yes, I do.

Could there have been some people going around casting votes for others who were not present? Yes, there could.

Although I do seriously believe the bulk of those votes, if not all of them, were cast in accordance with the wishes of the legislator in question.

For let’s not forget that this was an issue that the General Assembly, for many reasons, was determined to shove right up the governor’s (my mother would be offended at the use of such language, even though she’d agree it was accurate).

WHICH IS WHY by complaining now, Quinn comes off as a mere whiner (all too similar to those Los Angeles Angels fans who still complain about the ’05 American League playoffs and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski “cheating” them out of a victory).

You lost, dude. You got outmaneuvered by Com Ed and the lobbyists who came up with that trailer bill that bought the legislators off into wanting to support the issue by claiming they offered some utility bill help to lower-income people.

Whining about buttons being pushed improperly will play about as well this time as it has in the past. This is a perpetual issue that crops up, only to wither away a few days later.

Which means the only person who can win now are the “Smart Grid” backers because continued complaining by Quinn will merely make his “crusade” appear to be all the more foolish (at least one legislator is now going around calling him “Gov. Spin”) – even if, deep down, Quinn does have a few legitimate points to make.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

No Game Today

To my mindset, one of the saddest moments I encounter each year is in those couple of hours after the World Series comes to an end.
As the Hawk would say, the 2011 season is "ovah."

For it is then that I realize that the baseball season is “ovah,” and that Saturday is the beginning of a slightly-longer than three-month countdown until spring training starts for 2012, and nearly four months until anything resembling a ballgame is played.

REGARDLESS OF WHO actually wins the World Series title and gets bragging rights for U.S. baseball, there is that moment that makes me feel empty inside. Because there literally is “No Game Today” – the sign that used to hang on stadiums to inform fans passing by that there was no reason to stop off on that day.

We’re just a couple of days away from Halloween, which means the meat of the year is complete. Now, we’re in the home stretch – Frank Sinatra’s record album “September of my Years” comes to mind, even though we’re approaching November.

I am a fan of professional baseball, and the idea that there isn’t a game on that I can watch for an athletic fix is one that can be depressing if I linger on it for too long.

Yes, it is true that the professional leagues in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, along with the Liga del Pacifico in Mexico are up and running (their seasons began about two weeks ago).

SO I CAN always scour up a box score of a ballgame somewhere. Will Mexicali manage to keep the early lead in the standings they jumped out to in the Mexican Pacific League?

Is there some potential prospect playing this winter who will manage to make an impact on a major league club similar to what White Sox outfielder Alejandro de Aza did this season after playing last winter in the Dominican Republic?

Such speculation is intriguing. And on those rare occasions when a winter league ballgame gets broadcast, I likely will make an effort to try to watch it – regardless of which league it is or which teams are playing.

But it’s not the same. I can’t just jump on a flight to Caracas at a moment’s notice or see a game by the La Guaira Sharks (los Tiburones are Ozzie Guillen’s preferred Venezuelan ballclub).

ALTHOUGH PERHAPS I should point out that one of my ideas of a fantasy vacation would be to visit either Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela during the first week in February when one of those places is hosting the Caribbean Series – which is the championship for, and bragging rights of, Latin American baseball. I’d like to see the spectacle at least once in my lifetime.

But it still falls short of having the option of watching the game on my home turf.

For me, it’s something about the battle of wits that takes place every time a pitcher and batter face off against each other. The “head game,” as it was once referred to by longtime sportswriter Roger Kahn – who used the phrase as the title of a book he wrote about pitchers.

No other sport has anything quite like it, which is why I don’t want to hear from any sports fans who will claim that we can now focus our attention on football or college basketball or hockey or any other game.

TO THE DEGREE that I follow ANY sports during the winter, it will be to check out the standings of my own collegiate alma mater’s athletic teams (I may wind up being one of the visiting team basketball fans in the stands when Illinois Wesleyan University visits Hyde Park and the University of Chicago on Dec. 10), along with the box scores emanating from teams like the Caneros de Los Mochis or the Senadores de San Juan.

Because now that the World Series is over, that’s what I have left.

As for the series itself, I must confess to not watching any one of the games in their entirety. I did catch the moment when Albert Pujols hit the second of his three home runs in Game Three (and share the disgust of the sportswriter who dinged the Texas Rangers fan who showed her Chicago Cubbiness tendencies by throwing back the ball that was Home Run number Three).

The only Chicago World Series in my lifetime
And I was amused by all the rhetoric following Game Five that questioned how incompetent St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa could be. At least until Game Six, where all the chatter now claims the only person more worthless than LaRussa is Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington.

ALTHOUGH I’M NOT sure Game Six is as great a sporting moment as some people want to think. I see it as a blown ballgame by the Rangers. Their incompetence, rather than anything great (despite an extra-inning home run by eventual World Series MVP David Freese) by St. Louis.

I suppose I’ll wish well upon those fans of the World Series champion Cardinals. But my overall emotion right now is closer to a funk over the fact that there’s “No Game Today.”

Only124 more days until the beginning of Cactus League play. I’ll be counting each and every one of them down.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Does Rob intend to avenge his brother’s likely incarceration against Jackson?

It’s almost a funny story – the account by the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday that Robert Blagojevich is offering up himself as a possible witness to the House Ethics committee that is trying to determine how improper the behavior of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., has been.
JACKSON: A 'bulls-eye' on his back?

The way some people want to believe it, Jackson wanted then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to name him as the successor to Barack Obama when the latter in 2008 gave up his U.S. Senate seat from Illinois to become president.

THERE ARE THOSE who want to believe that Jackson’s conduct during this time period was just as criminal as that of Blagojevich – who since has been impeached, removed from office, twice tried in U.S. District Court and now awaits a likely lengthy prison term.

Now I state that those are the opinions of certain people – most of whom have their own ideological (if not racial) hang-ups about Jackson and/or his father.

For the fact is that Jackson has not been charged with anything. And federal prosecutors who handled the whole Blagojevich affair recently informed the House Ethics committee that it would no longer conflict with their own work if Congress were to act against Jackson.

Which is interpreted to mean that Jackson won’t ever face criminal charges for this matter.

NOW, IT’S JUST a matter of Congress deciding to have elaborate hearings that will give the impression of the lawmakers punishing one of their own for behaving in such a knuckleheaded manner.

Because it relates indirectly to the president and an impeached governor who gained national attention, those hearings will get national attention. It also will get coverage because it will be a chance to put a “Jesse Jackson” on display in a negative manner.
BLAGOJEVICH: His brother's help?

All those people who have griped for decades about the father will enjoy the misery the son suffers in coming months. Who knows, perhaps Jr. will stop telling the story about how thankful he is that his mother named him Jesse, Jr., instead of going along with his father’s suggestion.

“Selma Jackson” might not sound so bad to him any longer.

AND THAT IS where Robert Blagojevich comes in. The Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday used its website to report that the former governor’s brother wants to testify before Congress.

He wrote letters to all 10 members of the committee, letting them know he’ll come to Washington from his Nashville, Tenn., home to tell them all he knows about the situation.

Now as it turns out, Robert Blagojevich was never the political animal that brother Rod was. The fact that he took a spot on the Blagojevich for governor campaign was done more out of a sense of helping his brother achieve something he wanted.

He could sense that their mother would have been pleased to know her two sons were sticking together.

THAT FAMILY LOYALTY (which I can understand, because I’d like to think I would be equally supportive of my own brother, as he has been of me at times in the past) is what ultimately dragged Robert into the affair.

He wound up facing his own criminal charges, for which the same jury that couldn’t make up its mind about Rod also got stalemated on Rob.

Ultimately, Robert Blagojevich was cleared when federal prosecutors decided he wasn’t worth the time and hassle of a second trial – particularly because his involvement complicated the case they were making against his brother.

Who was the real target of all this legal initiative!

FOR THE RECORD, Rob claims it was the Jackson people who approached them to ask about Blagojevich naming Jesse, Jr., to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate, and it was they (he says) who offered up to $6 million in various fundraising efforts – in exchange for the appointment.

Robert Blagojevich claims he repeatedly turned the Jackson people down. Which would make it appear as though he’d be willing to claim before Congress that it was Jackson who initiated this effort for which his brother now faces the possibility of prison time.

BRANDO: As Corleone
Jackson in the past has said he expressed interest in gaining the post (he has been a U.S. rep from the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs for 17 years now), but claims he never did anything illegal.

Will Rob claim otherwise? Will he just make statements that throw off enough suspicion against Jackson to make him look bad?

BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH the brothers are not as close personally as they used to be (a criminal trial in front of a U.S. District judge will do that to a relationship), there is still a strong sense of Rob desiring to channel the “Don Corleone” character from The Godfather.

Mario Puzo’s novel and its many cinematic interpretations may not have originated the phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold,” but it seems to be the one advising Robert Blagojevich these days.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t want to hear from anyone about how “Revenge is a dish best served cold” is an old Klingon proverb.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do they want the Cliff’s Notes version?

The jury of William Cellini’s “peers” (as though any group of a dozen people could truly be considered the peers of a man who tells politicians what to do) already has shown something interesting about their comprehension of the evidence they have heard for the past few weeks.
Do we need a Cellini edition?

It’s probably not that intense.

I WRITE THAT after learning that the first day of deliberations on Wednesday has become stalled on account of the questions the jury sent to the judge and attorneys.

They want to know if they can have access to the power-point presentation they saw during the trial’s testimony. That was a tool used by the attorneys to more visually summarize the actual evidence that jurors were presented with.

But it is not evidence, in and of itself. The actual evidence, including those recordings of government wiretaps that were heard during the trial, is all in the hands of the jury.

They have the raw materials in their hands. They can go through it as much as they want to try to come to an understanding of what really happened concerning Cellini – who faces criminal charges in U.S. District Court for allegedly crossing over the line between legal and illegal in getting an aspiring movie producer to make a sizable donation to Rod Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaign fund.

BUT PERHAPS THAT is too confusing. Or maybe that takes too much time. So they want the summary, which was meant to highlight certain points that attorneys wanted to punctuate with force.

In short, it is the legal spin – not the fact, in and of itself.

The confused-looking people standing outside the Dirksen Federal Building with a cigarette may well be the Bill Cellini jury.

Which is why I was pleased to learn that U.S. District Judge James Zagel didn’t just give in and hand it over.

In fact, jurors wound up getting to go home early for the day on Wednesday because prosecutors and defense attorneys can’t agree on what they should be allowed to see.

SO EVEN WHEN jurors come back on Thursday to continue deliberations, there is going to be an initial time period in which they will do nothing. They will have to wait for the answer that will be crafted by attorneys – and whose legalese likely will be seen as pointless by at least a few of those jurors.

Who will probably rant and rage among themselves about why “those damned attorneys” can’t just give them a straight and simple answer.

When it comes to the courts, nothing is ever simple.

Actually, this moment reminded me of one that occurred just over a decade ago in U.S. District Court for central Illinois. It was the trial of Management Services of Illinois executives, who ultimately were found guilty of using their ties to government officials to benefit themselves financially beyond what could be construed as good government services.

THAT JURY ALSO asked at one point for special booklets that defense attorneys had prepared for them to use during the testimony to help explain some of the technical jargon used by state government officials in the Public Aid Department.

That judge refused to give the booklets on the grounds that they had the actual evidence, which means they had everything they needed to reach a decision.

Somehow, I think a similar answer in this case will frustrate the jurors, who may well feel like they’re swamped in government and campaign minutia

Which is never an encouraging situation to be in. One day into deliberations, and the jury already seems confused. Let’s only hope that they recover, or else this could become a long, drawn-out process.

PERHAPS ONE THAT lasts as long as the testimony itself – which in my mind breezed through so quickly (particularly when compared to the couple of months that the initial trial of Blagojevich himself lasted).

Got to keep those jurors content, particularly in a case with such significance to the way our state government operates (at least when they’re not engaged in political hissy fits against Gov. Pat Quinn by overriding his veto on the Commonwealth Edison “smart grid” bill).

That may well be the reason that Zagel was sympathetic to another “question” put forth by the jurors on Wednesday.

Apparently, there are some smokers among the jurors. Their question was to ask whether they could take a break for a cigarette. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that about five of the jurors were seen being escorted outside the Dirksen Federal Building so they could light up without violating laws against smoking indoors.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Long overdue? Or a smokescreen?

I am a professional baseball fan who does not share the thoughts of those individuals who rant and rage about governments spending their scarce dollars to build the stadiums used by their city’s teams.

Stadium changed, why not the lease?

It doesn’t bother me to have the city, county or state in the role of landlord. I can see where a ball club (even though technically a privately-owned enterprise) provides to the public image of a municipality, and that a city-owned stadium is the city’s official support.

I ONLY WISH that governments would act much tougher in their role as landlords, particularly when negotiating the lease. The same kind of tough talk that government officials will make about tax deadbeats? Why can’t we see the same approach used toward the local ball club – which needs the stadium to play in as much as the city wants the team.

So it is in that context that I read the reports from Crain’s Chicago Business that say the state (specifically, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority) is looking to renegotiate the lease it has with the Chicago White Sox to play their games at U.S. Cellular Field.

Former state Senate President Emil Jones, who now chairs the sports authority, told Crain’s that, “the Sox pay the lowest rent of all the facilities.” Are the White Sox going to have to share a larger percentage of their gross receipts in order to continue to be the team that plays at 35th and Shields/Bill Veeck Drive?

I’m not sure how accurate Jones’ statement is. There may be a very specific context in which it is true. But I am aware there are some other teams that get away with paying no rent, whereas the White Sox do wind up paying something just about every single season.

MY OWN PERSONAL “favorite” stadium lease story involves the two-time American League champion Texas Rangers, who when they moved into their current stadium in the mid-1990s paid rent for five seasons before being given title to the building.

The ball club then sold the building back to the state. In essence, Texas paid the team money to play there, and continues to maintain it on their behalf.

For all I know, stories like that will make White Sox team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf rant about how he’s already paying too much. But it is not unreasonable to expect Illinois state government to get something in return for its investment in the building – which opened in 1991 and underwent a major overhaul in the mid-2000s.

So just as the building has physically changed, perhaps the lease agreement should change as well – particularly since the White Sox boasted earlier this week how they want to open a sports attire store in the stadium that would be open year-round.

NOT JUST ON game days.

If they’re going to make some money, perhaps the building owner should get a cut – and not just the current rent that provides the state with $1-2 million a year, based on how well the White Sox draw.

Now I know some Cubs fans like to whine about the White Sox and those clauses that allow them to get away without paying any rent for a season. But that is if the attendance drops to low levels (1.4 million or fewer tickets sold).

For most of the 21 seasons that the White Sox have played in the building located across the street from the real Comiskey Park (now leveled to a parking lot), the team has met that standard.

THAT SHORT STRETCH at the end of the 1990s truly was an aberration for Chicago baseball, and not just because of Sammy Sosa’s freakish home runs (the real Sammy who played for the White Sox struck out too much, couldn’t hit squat and complained that the ballpark was inhibiting his greatness).

So if there are sufficient (if not record-setting) numbers of people visiting U.S. Cellular Field every season, it would be nice to think that the state could get a share of it.

Even though I’m realistic enough to know that a higher rent from the White Sox won’t even come close to resolving state government’s overall financial problems.

Besides, it’s not the first time the lease has been renegotiated. So no one can claim this to be an iron-clad lease that must be left intact in all its 1991 glory.

IT’S NOT LIKE the state is obligated to buy a certain number of tickets any more to ensure that the White Sox reach that minimal 1.4 million attendance standard. That was given up on over a decade ago (in exchange for the fact that state government is no longer entitled to a tiny percentage of the White Sox’ share of national broadcast revenue negotiated by Major League Baseball).

Let’s see what our state officials can get now, although they’re in the position of already having a signed lease and can’t really impose any terms.

At the very least, such money would help the state a bit – even those individuals who live across Illinois whose baseball sense is misguided enough that they root for the St. Louis Cardinals or the (Ugh!) Chicago Cubs.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EXTRA: Who’s evicting whom?

Pat Quinn, in his days before becoming governor, was the master of the Sunday press conference. He’d make some sort of announcement at the end of the weekend, knowing that unless there was some massive murder there would be nothing else for news outlets to cover.

So perhaps that is what the Occupy Wall Street types were thinking when they decided to make their latest statement against Illinois state government. They’re going to the Statehouse in Springfield on Saturday for a massive afternoon rally outside the capitol – using the same Lincoln statue as a background that Quinn used to use.

THEY’RE EVEN DESCRIBING their event as a symbolic “eviction notice” to the politicians who currently work at the Statehouse.

It’s a nice image that I’m sure many people, regardless of political party affiliation, would be sympathetic to. Kick all the bums out.

But seriously. A Saturday?

It’s hard to take the image of an eviction seriously on a day when the capitol will have no one inside it – except for the Secretary of State police officers on duty, and perhaps a few tourists.

I THINK I’D take this protest a little more seriously if they would have had the nerve to do it during the week – particularly since this week is the one in which legislators are back in Springfield for the first week of the fall veto session. Just envision the grimace on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's face if someone tried waiving a mock eviction notice in his face? Or the sight of rank-and-file legislators trying to sneak into the building without being detected by the activists?

Instead, I can already hear the ideologues who are determined to denounce this movement complaining that these activists don’t even have the nerve to confront the people they are complaining about. It may well be the only thing that the Tea Party types and I would agree upon. Because it’s true.

So to the hundreds, if not thousands, who take the time this weekend to have a Statehouse rally (not far from the spot where I once saw the Ku Klux Klan have a capitol building rally, just to show that they could), have fun. Perhaps they'll exorcise the "stink" the Klan left on the Statehouse grounds all those years ago.

Just don’t be too surprised if few people bother to pay attention. Which may be the reason why the Gallup Organization has a poll showing that while more people sympathize with the Occupy types than oppose it, most don’t have a clue as to what they’re all about.


Why is this not bribery? Because it’s “Smart Grid” legislative politics

The Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session begins Tuesday, and one of the key issues that will come up will be the fate of the “Smart Grid,” that new technology desired by Commonwealth Edison that they want near-guaranteed rate hikes to pay for its implementation.
JONES: $50 million for LiHEAP is his price

Gov. Pat Quinn used his “veto” power this summer to kill the bill. Or should I say, try to kill it. Because this measure is likely to rise from the dead as many legislators, particularly those who are upset that Quinn won’t go along with their desired gambling expansion plan, are more than willing to vote to over-ride him.

FOR SOME, IT’S payback. They’ll dump on Quinn’s attempt to keep Com Ed in check. Of course, they’ll claim other reasons for it. Some of them will even sound altruistic on the surface.

Take the case of a statement issued Monday by state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, who made it publicly known that although he voted against the “Smart Grid” bill during the spring, he is now inclined to vote “yea” when the issue comes up in the veto session.

Now I don’t know that there’s a direct tie for Jones between the Smart Grid and casino expansion bills (although Jones once said he thinks Quinn is looking at gambling in the wrong way – focusing on problems it causes rather than the money it can raise to help pay to fix problems).

But the reason that Jones gives isn’t much better.

HE CITES A “trailer” bill that will be forthcoming during the fall session. In politico-speak, a trailer bill is one that is approved separately from its main bill, but provides for various issues that are related to the original vote.

In this case, the trailer will include up to $50 million in extra state funding for the LiHEAP energy assistance program. State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the trailer could get a vote in the state Senate as soon as Tuesday.

That program is one that gets tapped into every winter by low-income people who, because of the excess cold that is a Midwestern winter, run up extremely-high heating bills that they cannot possibly afford to pay off on their own.

The program helps those people pay those bills, thereby assuring that no one gets cut off in mid-winter and dies from the cold. For those who are now going to spew an ideological argument about how government shouldn’t be paying utility bills, figure that government believes that the expense of paying a few bills is better than having to cover the cost of an indigent person’s funeral – or the bad public image of letting people freeze to death.

AND FOR JONES, the idea of the state providing extra money to help cover those costs (particularly since he represents a portion of Cook County filled with suburban communities where the economic struggles of our nation have impacted harder-than-elsewhere) is a plus.

“For that reason, I will vote to support …the Com Ed ‘Smart Grid’ bill,” Jones says, in his statement.

He also points out that he’s not the only former “nea” vote who will flip to “yea” on Smart Grid. It seems that this trailer bill is meant to give a lot of legislators something they desire – in exchange for getting them to go along with the desires of Commonwealth Edison on this particular issue.

Which means they will be able to put the political spin that they brought something back to their home communities – rather than just knuckled under to the utility company. Because if it had to run purely on its merits, I think the negative image Com Ed has in many peoples’ minds is strong enough to kill this issue off for good.

I DO BELIEVE that Quinn tapped into a public sentiment on this issue; which is to say that the ‘Smart Grid’ technology that has the potential to pinpoint outages to their exact location and give repair crews detailed explanations of the problem before crews even get there is a noble goal.

But I wonder how many people don’t trust Com Ed to be able to implement it without significant problems. Which is why they resent the idea that the bill provides for rate increases to pay for its implementation.

Those television commercial spots of recent days that imply the current infrastructure is a century old and too primitive to accommodate our society much longer aren’t going to sway those who don’t trust the utility.

It could be said that the distrust is Com Ed’s payback for years of screw-ups and incompetence.

SO HOW DO the political powers-that-be respond? By making the payoff.

In the case of Jones, his price is $50 million more for the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program. (although nowhere do I see an explanation of where this money will come from – at a time when so many state government bills are going unpaid).

Other legislators, I’m sure, have their own prices. In fact, I probably shouldn't give the impression that Jones is the only legislator guilty of such conduct.

So if it turns out that the General Assembly does decide to override Quinn on this issue, keep in mind that part of it is meant to embarrass the governor. While the rest is just a good ol’ fashioned payoff – albeit one that is legal and only the most hard-headed of assistant U.S. attorneys would dare to even think of in terms of prosecution.


Monday, October 24, 2011

How many people are playing “1968” in their minds? Will we ever live it down?

It almost felt like false advertising.

I’m talking of television coverage of these Occupy Wall Street/Chicago/Washington/wherever protests where one can clearly hear the participants chant, “The whole world is watching.”
One month, and counting

AS IN THE chant that was used by the anti-war activists who protested in Chicago back in 1968 – the year that Chicago police engaged in overkill (that’s why it ultimately got labeled a “police riot”) to try to maintain order in Grant Park.

The idea that anything that is happening these days is comparable to the chaos of our society in the summer that I was 3 years old is just an exaggeration; which is what makes the lengthier-than-usual incarceration for some protesters seem all-the-more like overkill. To compare these protests to the activities of the ‘60s seems way too much like people in desperate need of validation.

Perhaps they even think they’re being “60s-ish” by managing to get arrested. The most recent activities of these activists who want government to quit being so lovey-dovey with big business (as compared to Tea Party types, who think government is too hostile towards such interests) have resulted in arrests.

Just this weekend, Chicago police spent their late Saturday into early Sunday in Grant Park, taking into custody 130 people who camped out (which in and of itself was not the problem) and wouldn’t leave at curfew.

IN SHORT, THE park closed for the evening, and these people didn’t want to leave.

Activists are issuing statements saying they plan to continue such activities on weekends. Which means that every weekend, we’re going to get the sight of Chicago police hauling people off in the wagons so they can spend some time in a holding cell – all so that charges can be filed that likely will be dismissed in the future so that prosecutors can focus their attention on “real” crime.

Which makes the whole thing seem like a game. We’re playing “60s.” Will someone lose control and clobber someone just a bit too hard with that police club? Although it is nice to see evidence that not everybody is a Tea Party-type (which is what those people would have you believe).
Not everybody thinks '68 was cute

Don’t think that thought of this being a game hasn’t run through the minds of some, particularly when egged on by the same chants that echoed through Grant Park some 43 years ago while the unaware Democratic Party operatives nominated Hubert Humphrey to take a fall to Richard Nixon in the presidential election cycle that year.

JUST A COUPLE of weeks ago, I covered that big downtown protest march for one of the suburban daily newspapers – the march that had a few thousand people converge on the Art Institute of Chicago (and which resulted in only one person being arrested – for pushing a police officer).

While there, I ran into a former reporter-type colleague of mine who now works for one of the wire services, and who told me that her editors in New York were all hot and bothered for the Chicago version of the “Occupy (fill in the blank)” protests.

It is the history. Everybody was eager to see if the 21st Century version of the Chicago police (on horseback, bicycle and foot) would snap and start swatting at people with their clubs.

Would we get current college kids getting their heads smashed in before getting hauled off to a holding cell and having the mug shots taken that will haunt them if any of them ever try running for public office sometime around the year 2030.

WOULD THEY GET beaten upon like their activist grandparents (while their Reagan-era children shrugged in disgust that “Junior” was turning out to be just like “Pop”)?

Of course, it didn’t happen. And it is unlikely to happen in Chicago, or anywhere else. While I can’t testify to every single “Occupy (fill in the blank)” protest, the activity I have seen has included these people with vest-clad “marshals” who are their own members.

Those “marshals” literally guide protesters through the activity, and inform them if they’re about to do something that could be construed as a criminal violation that could get themselves arrested. In short, these people are policing themselves to a large degree.

Even the Associated Press is describing the most recent arrests in Chicago as “noisy, but peaceful, defiance of police orders.” Not exactly the activity of 1968 – where you can still find aging “hawks” who will tell you the Chicago police were justified in their forceful behavior because the protesters were throwing bags of excrement at them.

AS FOR THE current protests, the worst thing I saw happen to a protester by police was one point where a mounted police officer’s horse literally felt the “call of nature” and urinated on the street – which also was covered in so much manure.

That urine dribbled down the street and right into a group of protesters sitting on the pavement – who suddenly realized just what that puddle developing around them truly was.

That’s a far cry from ’68. It’s actually almost amusing.

If the “whole world” truly is watching now, I can’t help but think they’re getting bored and are ready (63 percent of people surveyed by the Gallup Organization say they don’t comprehend what these protesters are about) to flip the channel.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Everybody smile. Look happy, & don’t drive the knife too far into his back

I’m still trying to figure out what is the most hilarious part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appearance with Gov. Pat Quinn and union leaders on Friday at McCormick Place.
EMANUEL: Keeping them closer

Could it be the fact that Emanuel managed to “play nice” with at least one set of organized labor leaders, just a day after the state of Illinois dumped all over his school reform plans by siding with the Chicago Teachers Union?

OR IS IT the fact that we had Emanuel and Quinn standing side by side, pretending to be pleased with each other even though the governor himself seems to have dumped all over Emanuel’s desires to get a casino in Chicago – sooner, rather than later.

Watching the famed “Rahm-bo” having to be nice in public with people whom he’d probably rather dump in a ditch did nothing more than remind me of that old “The Godfather” line – “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Should the Teamsters and carpenters unions, along with the governor himself, be watching their backs these days, wondering if/when Emanuel will come up with the equivalent of cement shoes for them to wear?

It’s just my guess, but I’d bet that Emanuel these days is most upset with the Chicago Teachers Union – a body that he has spent the past couple of months demonizing because they won’t just willingly go along with his desires for a longer school day.

THOSE TEACHERS HAVE the nerve to think they should be compensated for any extra time they do on the job, and that Emanuel should have negotiated any change with tem than thinking he could just impose it automatically.

At least that’s the way Emanuel (and all those ideologues who like to dump on organized labor any chance they can get) want to view the issue. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board took a different, and perhaps more reasonable, viewpoint.
QUINN: Watching his back?

They voted 5-0 on Thursday to seek an injunction, which would prevent Emanuel from implementing such a change (adding 90 minutes to each school day, to be exact) any time this school year.

Which means Emanuel will have to sit down and talk to people like Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union. After having spent the past couple of months being dumped upon, those teachers are likely to up their demands in exchange for supporting any changes in the school day.

SO HOW SINCERE was Emanuel on Friday in offering up support to the unions that represent the employees who work at the McCormick Place convention center? I wish I could have been close enough to hear what he was muttering under his breath – or through his clenched teeth and he smiled and boasted of the significance of the agreement that was reached concerning the convention center’s work rules.

Admittedly, there have been those who argue that the rules are so strict (trained union electricians required to plug in displays to a wall socket?!!) that they drive up costs of Chicago conventions and cause the shift to places such as Las Vegas, Nev., or Orlando, Fla.

Ignoring the fact that many convention-goers don’t really want to explore the cities they visit, and just want a simple attraction near their hotel. Perhaps a nearby casino could fill that bill.

Except that Quinn did his business, so to speak, all over that desire by saying he’s prepared to use his veto power to kill off the bill, which had speculation about possibly as many as three bills being introduced in coming days to try to impose some sort of expanded gambling opportunities across Illinois.

EMANUEL HAS ALWAYS wanted this goal – which is one that Richard M. Daley also wanted during his two-plus decades as mayor but could never achieve. But Quinn thinks the General Assembly got carried away with creating gambling opportunities, particularly with all those slot machines at places like race tracks and airports.

That is what caused Quinn to actually show some backbone and stand up to the casino backers, who just have such a different way of viewing the issue that there probably is no way to ever close the gap.

As one of those legislators who backs the casino proposal told me this week, Quinn is viewing the issue the “wrong” way. He sees it for all the potential for problems that can arise from gambling, instead of seeing it for the benefits that it can bring.

Those benefits being the portion of the gross receipts that Illinois and the municipalities that host such casinos can charge them as a tax. And at a time when many governments (including Illinois state and Chicago city) are struggling to meet their expenses, that is just too much of a consideration to ignore.

WHICH TO MY mindset sounds too much like saying that having morals is only acceptable when times are going good. Times of struggle can’t afford anything like morality.

It also means Quinn may have scored some moral bonus points on this one issue. Yet I can’t help but wonder what the political payback will be for Quinn, and how long it will be before Emanuel starts thinking about how “cold” his “revenge” should be.