Saturday, January 30, 2016

Can President Obama bring bipartisanship to Ill. Statehouse scene?

It will be interesting to see what spews from the mouth of President Barack Obama when he returns to Springfield to give a joint address to our state Legislature.
Has it really been eight years?

 We usually don’t get presidents speaking to our General Assembly members so directly, and presidents don’t usually deign to speak to people so low (but who think they’re all important) on the political evolutionary scale.

BUT OBAMA IS a former member of the Illinois Senate (1997 until he got elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004). And the Chicago Tribune reported Friday how the president will make a stop at the Statehouse in Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 10.

Officially, Obama wants to talk to his one-time colleagues (some of whom actually outranked Obama himself back in the old days) about how to work together to build better politics. “One that reflects our better selves,” the Tribune quotes a presidential travel advisory as saying.

I’m sure that some people are going to ridicule the very concept of Obama being the person who can bring people together. Largely because his presidency has been thwarted in so many ways by politically partisan tactics.

He is the one guy that some people of the Republican persuasion (and even a few of the Democratic leanings) will absolutely not listen to! What makes us think that that those people won’t get all worked up with their ideologue fervor to reject anything that comes from Obama’s mouth on that day?

YET OBAMA IS determined to make an appeal on his own home turf – the place where he was once just one of 177 legislators, and one of a few who represented parts of the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods in Chicago.

It would be nice if people would listen to such a message – particularly since my own thoughts and memories of Obama from when I covered him as a legislative correspondent and Statehouse reporter was of a guy who wasn’t the hard-core ideologue that many political people were.

In short, a guy who could easily compromise on issues.
How close did Barack come to matching up to the Man of Steel? Photographs provided by Obama for
America presidential campaign
Which offended his would-be allies in the Democratic and black caucuses who felt he was selling out their core beliefs. And the Republicans who would have preferred a hard-core ideologue of their own fashion in his place.

THE GUY WHO some people were determined to lambast as a socialist and a Muslim and an all-about terrible guy who would have been more than willing to work with them on their pet issues.

That is what has become the Obama presidential legacy, and also a part of the Congressional legacy for our current era. We have a government at the federal level determined to hold out for ideological goals and do nothing for now.

And with the status quo we have had in Springfield for the past year, it seems we’re going to get that same attitude coming to the Statehouse Scene. Whatever shall we do, unless we’re content to have a whole lot of nothin’ going on for the next few years?

So what should we expect seriously to come out of Obama’s trip to the Statehouse, which will bring to our memories that day some eight years ago when Obama used the steps of the old State Capitol building in Springfield (the one that Abraham Lincoln himself would have remembered as the Statehouse) to begin actively campaigning for president.

BACK BEFORE THE Iowa caucuses that gave his campaign an early jolt and made us realize he should be taken more seriously than John Edwards or Bill Richardson or even Hillary Clinton herself!

Will Barack have something serious to say about political bipartisanship? Can he become a voice who helps bring Illinois together beyond the perpetual blame game played by Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago?

Which could be the beginning of a process of bipartisanship for the United States of America as a whole!

Or is this just the beginning of the Obama farewell tour – a way of saying goodbye to the nation; a significant segment of which wishes they could pretend he never existed in the first place?


Friday, January 29, 2016

EXTRA: No school strike? A miracle!

So what should we think of the possibility that the Chicago Public Schools has actually reached an agreement with its teachers’ union toward a new contract.
EMANUEL: One less headache
Thereby avoiding the image of striking school teachers further blotting the public image of Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who already has endured one teachers’ strike during his mayoral stint and surely would like to avoid another.

IT HAS BEEN for so long that Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union have been enemies, doing whatever they could to undercut each other. So much so that it was the teachers’ union that was the reason Jesus Garcia was able to run a serious campaign against Emanuel last year for mayor.

But this week, the teachers union said they received a “serious offer” from the Chicago schools. They’re not saying what it is. But say it will be contemplated by the union’s Big Bargaining Team on Monday, and could soon get a recommendation to the union as a whole to support.

An actual contract in place, instead of the teachers’ strike that too many people had presumed was inevitable.

In terms of specifics, the union would only say they would have to make financial concessions in exchange for protections of education quality and job security. Which shows that the union can spew political gobbledygook as well as any politician.

BUT THE CHICAGO Public Schools says significant concessions are being made by both sides. Which if accepted would ensure the current school year does not get interrupted – which would be a massive headache for parents.

And you don’t mess with those parents. It is the reason why the one part of the state government budget for Fiscal 2016 that Gov. Bruce Rauner did sign into law was the part for public education.

He knows how deep in doggie doo he’d be right now if he had school parents peeved at him along with everybody else.

And if there really is a contract, then it is one less headache for Emanuel to have to cope with – no matter how intense the headache caused by his police department’s behavior may be.


Will one-time speaker Hastert survive long enough to be sentenced in fed ct?

Remember the scene from the two-decade-old film “Casino” where, when the organized crime leaders wind up in legal trouble and have to appear in court, they wind up showing up with assorted canes and wheelchairs – and one even came with an oxygen tank so he could allegedly breathe.

HASTERT: Proceedings continue
The implication being that these men came up with ailments so as to appeal to the sympathy of the court that could theoretically have sent them way to prison for lengthy stints.

NOW I’M SURE some people are going to be grossly offended at my bringing this up upon learning that one-time House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s attorneys are now saying he nearly died from assorted ailments back in November.

It was that claim, and the need to have Hastert’s cooperation in preparing his defense, that got his attorneys to ask for a delay in his sentencing.

For the record, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin on Thursday rescheduled the sentencing hearing for Hastert to April 8. Although news accounts of Thursday’s court hearing indicate federal prosecutors are concerned the sentencing may be delayed too long.

Now I don’t know first-hand the extent to how ill the 74-year-old Hastert was back in November, or is now. But you just know that for every person now offended with me for bringing this up, there probably are two or three who are having the same exact thought.

IS THE HASTERT case going to drag out into a legal circus far worse than the mere facts of the case usually would warrant – just because of whom Denny is or what it is he is alleged to have really done?

Considering that Hastert supposedly is facing the prospect of up to six months in a federal corrections facility if he ultimately pleads guilty, could this case have long been settled if not for maneuvering that is dragging it out longer and longer than it ought to be?

This desire for a delay only adds to the circus atmosphere, and the expense to the judicial system brought about by the U.S. attorney’s desire to “put away” one of the few Illinois politicos ever to reach the rank of speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

This is a case that already has many people upset, particularly because the perception is out there that Hastert will someday be able to plead guilty to financial infractions whereas many people want “the dirt” about whether he did something sexual with a teenage boy back when Denny was a high school wrestling coach!

PROSECUTORS SAY THAT Hastert made significant payoffs of his own money to one of his former students decades after the two were involved in each others lives. In short, after Hastert wasn’t a political person and actually had significant money to spend as part of his post-political, lobbyist life.

Because some of those payments involved withdrawals from bank accounts in large amounts – violating federal laws requiring such withdrawals to be reported immediately to the government – Hastert is alleged to have committed a crime.

But that’s all he’s facing. Prosecutors say the allegations about Hastert and the boy are too old to investigate, and aren’t really relevant to the financial crime that intrigues them.

I’ve written previously that the people who are interested in this case solely as a sex crime are going to be frustrated. They’re not going to get the titillation they desire.

BUT THE LONGER that the Hastert camp drags this out, the more outrage there ultimately will be felt by whatever outcome this court case brings about.

I almost wish Hastert would just enter his “guilty” plea and serve his sentence, so that we can all move on.

Besides, then he could do his time and try to go the Dan Rostenkowski route of a political elder statesman with a touch of taint to his story – and could wind up getting a presidential pardon someday down the road if the GOP actually manages to regain the White House come November.

And was more fortunate than that one character from "Casino," the one who died of a heart attack on-the-spot upon being told by FBI agents he faced federal indictment and that it was his own records that would provide significant evidence against he and his crime colleagues.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Do we vote for a ‘socialist?’

What happens if the Democratic Party winds up giving its presidential nomination this year to a person who has purposefully gone out of his way to identify himself as a socialist?
SANDERS: A loser? Or overwhelming winner?

Is that the one way in which we could wind up with a “President Donald Trump” come the November general election?

IT WAS A thought put forth to me on Wednesday, and one that has been rattling about in my brain ever since.

Personally, I think Trump’s persona would doom the GOP to defeat in this year’s election cycle.

While some people might find something amusing or enthralling about the idea of the New York real estate geek whose money attracts him a certain type of woman, I’d like to think the bulk of us in our society would see Donald for something short of a buffoon.

Someone whose persona would wind up bringing great shame to the United States of America amongst the world community.

THEN AGAIN, I have to wonder if Sanders has the ability to be equally ridiculous. Could this really be an election cycle in November between the nitwit segments of our society?

The people who are so displeased about their lives – perhaps because they’re the castoffs who can’t quite cut it in the current system that they’re willing to cast ballots for someone who wants to make them think someone else is causing their miserable lot in life.

Personally, I don’t think much of Trump or Sanders, the latter because I think his talk appeals purely to people who are too naïve to comprehend the real world. He really does remind me of the Paul Tsongas presidential bid of 1992 – which went nowhere.

Honestly, I’m not bothered about the fact he has used the “socialist” label to identify himself politically. Although I’m aware that most people really don’t have a clue as to what a socialist really is.

IT WOULD BE too easy for the ideologues to taint Sanders with the label in a way that he might not be able to win – no matter which Republican gets the nomination. The only way Bernie wins a general election is if the general public adopts a sense of sophistication and comprehension that, to be honest, we really don’t have.

Then again, Trump strikes me as a smug brat whose snottiness is such that a true majority will seek to vote against him.

Which is why I find it interesting to learn of a poll by Western Illinois University, that Forgottonia-based college in Macomb that claims Sanders will win the presidential election by an overwhelming Electoral College margin of support.

The pollsters say they think many Republicans will wind up being so dismayed by whomever the GOP nominates for president that they cast their votes in November for the Libertarian Party candidate as a form of protest.

WHICH PUTS A lot of states otherwise unreachable to the Democrats in play.

Now I don’t know how seriously I take this poll – even though the college put out a statement saying they’ve never been wrong in the past. It always seems some obscure poll comes out each election cycle that claims incredible accuracy to back the most nonsensical of concepts.

So I suppose this election cycle will wind up being remembered for the way a major candidate winds up being the kiss of death for his political party.

Will 2016 go in the books as the year a socialist turns Trump into a fully-legitimate government official (which he’d never be on his own)? Or will it be the year that a socialist eliminates the stigma of that label, similar to how 2008 proved wrong the idea that a black man could never achieve the highest office in the land?


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How does Illinois move forward this year when we’re still stuck in last year?

I must confess, I don’t have a clue what will come out of the mouth of Gov. Bruce Rauner when he gives his “State of the State” address come Wednesday.

RAUNER: What will he say?
I don’t doubt that when the noon hour arrives, Rauner will speak – and probably make attempts at eloquent rhetoric (or at least something he thinks is eloquent) about how we, the people of Illinois, will be much better off if only our political structure would just shut up and do what he tells them to!

BUT AS FOR any specific policies or changes or anything that he might try putting forward as the reason for government to exist at all in 2016? I doubt there will be much of any substance.

In fact, I have to admit to being glad I won’t be at the Statehouse in Springfield to actually hear the address, and certainly don’t think there will be a need to try to watch a broadcast of the speech on one of those public access television programs that nobody but government geeks pays any attention to anyway.

It will all be partisan trash-talk, as will be the official responses that the General Assembly’s leaders will feel compelled to make once the governor is through talking.

So the “State of the State” of Illinois for 2016? It’s the same as in 2015 – total chaos caused by the fact we have delved into the type of partisan politics that has long dominated our federal government scene.

ALTHOUGH FOR THOSE who try to make some sort of comparison by claiming that Rauner is going through the same level of partisan attacks that Barack Obama gets from the Republican-run Congress, I’d have to say “nonsense.”

The activity taking place here these days ...
To paraphrase the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Rauner, you are no Barack Obama.

If anything, our governor is trying to give the same partisan tactics used in Congress some level of credibility within Illinois state government. Although that actually isn’t 100 percent correct either.

The ideologues in Congress are about trying to give dominance to a certain segment of society based off select interpretations of moralistic issues. Rauner is about trying to give his business buddies a government that will coddle their concerns over all else in our society – so as to benefit their bottom line.

... bears too much resemblance to Capitol Hill activity
I SUPPOSE IT’S like the old Reaganomics theory of “trickle down,” that if the most wealthy are doing well, somehow we all will benefit from their wealth. Although it’s been my own observation that when the wealthy are doing well, they take on measures meant to ensure that they keep as much as possible – and that nothing trickles down.

Perhaps this is the kind of talk we’ll hear from the governor on Wednesday.

It’s going to be a speech that tries to justify the past year – one in which we’re now seven months through the current fiscal year without being anywhere close to having a balanced budget in place.

And where the only reason certain government agencies continue to run is because the federal courts have ordered they do so.

WHICH IS A mess because the state never took the actions necessary to ensure there’d be enough funds to get through Fiscal 2016. Either by some sort of revenue enhancement/tax increase or some sort of major cut to keep the state within the level of cash it actually will have on hand.

And yes, government has obligations that must be met. So I don’t want to hear the cheap rhetoric about “living within one’s means.”

MADIGAN: Is it his fault?
So we’re at the point now where we’re getting ready to hear in coming weeks about a budget proposal for Fiscal 2017 (which begins July 1), even though we still don’t have the budget in place for ’16 – and probably never will get one. It would be nice if Rauner could use the “State of the State” to try to explain himself and his past year’s actions. But I don’t expect we’ll get that.

Unless you take seriously a speech that basically boils down to the theme of “It’s Mike Madigan’s fault!”


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Do I owe my “A” to the Super Bowl?

I have to make a confession – one that I’m sure will shock the standards of many people who think they know what a true Chicagoan is.

Are we really on 'L' already?
Back 30 years ago Tuesday when the Chicago Bears reached the pinnacle of winning a Super Bowl – beating the New England Patriots 46-10, I didn’t actually watch the game on television.

I DIDN’T PERCH myself in front of a television set that day to see the moment that many people (except for young punk kids who are too young to know better) think of as a glory day for all of Chicago.

Not that I wasn’t aware of the game, or the hype, or the fact that Chicago got extra stupid in the way it worshipped the gridiron back in that autumn of 1985 that led into the Super Bowl XX that came early in 1986.

And yes, all football championships need to have roman numerals attached as though they are battles of the gladiators of old – just as comedian George Carlin once told us that all football matches are played in places with names like Soldier Field or War Memorial Coliseum.

I actually have a vivid memory of that day – which was part of the time in which I was out of Chicago and off at college; Bloomington, Ill., to be exact.

BECAUSE IT WAS an example of me at one of my laziest moments.

I was taking a course that January in which the totality of my grade was a lengthy paper that I had to write detailing what it was I had learned.

Do you still own a turntable to play this on?
There was nothing else to take into account. The paper was it. A bad paper would mean a poor grade. And yes, I had barely started on it that Sunday.

Which is why that particular afternoon, I was holed up in my room banging away at a typewriter producing what turned out to be something close to 40 pages of copy.

FORTUNATELY FOR ME, I actually had a good comprehension of the subject matter. I actually had been paying attention and had learned some things.

So while it was a lengthy paper and quite detailed, it was actually rather easy to write. It flowed well, and by about 6 p.m., I was done.

A Chicago history 'moment'
Of course, back then the Super Bowl was still played in January and wasn’t meant to be a prime time spectacle. The game was played in the afternoon. At the same time that was prime work time for me to deal with this paper!

For me, that meant tuning in my stereo to the AM radio dial. For because it was the Chicago Bears, WGN radio had managed to get the rights to carry a live broadcast of the NFL’s prize program.

MEANING I WAS the guy who spent the afternoon grinding out a college paper while also trying to keep track of how the Bears were doing. Yes, I remember the Patriots scoring first and feeling a moment of “How typical” – as in a Chicago sports team getting all worked up before blowing it in the end.

I say typical because back then, it had been 22 years since the Bears had last won a championship, 24 years since the Blackhawks did so, 26 years since the White Sox had an American League title and 40 years since the Cubs did so in the National League.

While in this pre-Jordan era, the Chicago Bulls had NEVER won anything of note.

But as the Bears began piling on the points and racking up a huge lead (it was 46-3 at one point before New England came up with a token touchdown to save face), perhaps I got a jolt as well. I do remember how well that copy flowed – in a way I have rarely, if ever, felt since.

I REMEMBER MY roommate came back home to Chicago because he wanted to watch the game locally, and I remember the amount of grief he gave me afterward for not perching in front of a television.

Is there a ring for passing a class?
That is, until he found the artistic guys (as in drama majors) who lived down the hall who hadn’t even been aware there was a game that day.

I always wondered to what degree that game being on the radio provided motivation to my writing that day. Because I still remember the grade I received for that cranked-out-in-four-hours college paper I wrote at nearly the last possible minute.

It was an “A.”


Monday, January 25, 2016

Saying “yes” to DH an easier decision to make than picking a president

The presidential caucuses in Iowa are fast approaching, as is the New Hampshire primaries. Yet I remain clueless as to who I can seriously say I support for president.

Almost a 3,000-hit player due to DH
I think many of the Republican hopefuls are offensive, while the Democratic dreamers of White House glory are either clueless or ever so mediocre. Although I believe the Des Moines Register’s picks for president (Dem Hillary Clinton and GOPer Marco Rubio) are fairly safe and predictable choices.

SO AT A time when I feel like I ought to be making up my mind about something, I find my mind shifting to baseball.

Not only because spring training is rapidly approaching (Feb. 19 for the Chicago White Sox and Feb. 20 for the Chicago Cubs) and I’m anxious to have springtime-like weather, but also because at least baseball gives us an obvious choice.

Even though I’m sure my pick will wind up upsetting people even more than any political pick I might make – bring the designated hitter to the National League.

It’s about time that move was made and that the National League get off its high horse thinking it somehow is superior because it can’t get with the program that all the rest of professional baseball (except the Pacific League in Japan) follows.

FOR THOSE WHO are clueless as to the joy of baseball, the designated hitter was a measure created back in 1973 by American League teams (including the White Sox) where someone else hits for the pitcher – which throughout the history of baseball has been a spot in the line-up that weakens the offense.

There are those fans of National League teams (including the Chicago Cubs) who think this somehow is an aberration, even though I’d argue the Cubs’ play throughout the decades is the bigger aberration to baseball. It can become a heated argument.

DH extended career to Hall of Fame
One that will become even more intense in coming months because there is speculation that the National League will adopt the DH soon – possibly as soon as the 2017 season.

Baseball Commissioner Fred Manfred said last week the change could be made because there is a new generation of National League team owners – ones who think the designated hitter just makes too much sense to not have. In short, the old-liners who want to think they’re better off without it aren’t strong enough t resist the modern day.

THAT INCLUDES HAVING another big bat in the line-up, often one upon which the entire ball club is based around. As for those who think removing a weak-hitting pitcher in the late innings of a ballgame for a pinch hitter is evidence of great strategy, I’d say those people probably get excited seeing a frustrated ball player smash a water cooler.
Cubs better off if he'd been a DH
Will he ruin it beyond repair? Or just put a few dents in it that future generations of ballplayers will marvel over?

To me, at least, watching a National League game always feels like there’s a gap that pops up every few innings when the pitcher has to come up to bat. A gap that just doesn’t occur when watching an American League team play.

In short, all the talk of “strategy” offered up by National League fans is a batch of hooey! Way too overblown to take seriously.

SINCE THE PEOPLE who now lead baseball are determined to erase the differences between American and National league ball clubs to make one overall professional league in the United States, having the designated hitter in one league while denying its existence in the other just seems silly.

Now I don’t know if the designated hitter really is coming to the Chicago Cubs and other National League teams next season. I don’t doubt there will be some fans who won’t stop complaining until they’re planted in the ground with a headstone atop them. Even then, their spirits will probably haunt us to complain.

Even Hillary has a bubble-gum card
But it’s bound to happen. And if it winds up getting approved some time during 2016, it could be the most controversial action of the year.

Because I suspect that some people will find the idea of the Chicago Cubs or Pittsburgh Pirates having a designated hitter even more offensive than the concept of the oath of office being administered early next year to “President Hillary R. Clinton.”


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Who’d have thought Rauner would be a unifier between mayor and schools

On the surface, it would seem that Gov. Bruce Rauner has served a practical purpose with his trash talk earlier this week about the need for state government to take control of the Chicago Public Schools.

Has Rauner had a role ...
Because now it puts both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union on the same side, so to speak. The two factions that historically have had trouble getting along continue to talk toward negotiating a new contract for public school educators.

JUST THIS WEEK, union President Karen Lewis (who considered running against Emanuel in last year’s election cycle) said progress is being made during negotiations. There may actually be a contract agreement in coming weeks.

We may not have the teacher strike that many had feared would kill off the public school structure as we know it. Although the 227 non-teachers who learned Friday they're being laid off and the 180 vacant positions that now will never be filled will be a blow to the schools.

Now maybe it’s overly simplistic to say that the governor is responsible for these two long-hostile factions to be able to come to common ground. I certainly doubt Rauner would intend to do any such thing.

His goals toward undermining organized labor within government and public service entities certainly benefit if the mayor and the teachers union are continually sniping at each other.

BUT A SITUATION where Rauner is continually lambasting the schools, and contending that it is the mayor’s oversight of them that is to blame certainly has the two now facing a common enemy.

... in making Karen Lewis and the mayor ...
Let’s be honest. The Chicago Public Schools are a mess. They have been for many years, largely due to neglect. The predominant attitude among many Chicago area people with kids is either to leave the city proper when the kids get old enough for school, or to make arrangements for the kids to attend private – often Catholic – schools.

The Chicago Public Schools often become the choice of those people who have no other options for their kids. Which is a shame.

Despite what Ted Cruz’ father said recently about the concept of public education being “communist,” there really is the sense that every kid ought to have the option of an education.

EVEN THOUGH THE great shame of educating young people is that they often are too immature to appreciate the need, and let it go to waste.

... less hostile toward each other?
So if there winds up being a political takeover of the schools (unlikely, since I think many political people will reject the idea with a knee-jerk reaction) or a strike, it will be the young people who suffer.

Even though I suspect many parents merely view the public schools as a baby-sitting service for their kids while they attend work during the day.

No matter what Karen Lewis says, there could still be a strike. Who knows what kind of snub or gaffe could be spoken by someone in coming days or weeks that eliminates the goodwill that has built up in recent weeks.

I ALSO COULDN’T help but notice news reports where Lewis indicated that schools CEO Forrest Claypool was actually in New York hitting the financial markets trying to sell bonds as a way of raising money to keep the Chicago schools afloat.

It may be a financial scheme. Or a serious plan to revamp the current situation without the political alternatives put forth by Rauner that primarily serve the governor’s own partisan political desires.

Could there be a solution to a situation that has the makings of a mess of historic proportions for our public school system?

And could it turn out that the Chicago school mess that some figured would devastate Emanuel just as much as all the flak over all the police slayings of young black men in the past couple of years wind up resulting in a new contract that could end up revamping some political reputations?


Friday, January 22, 2016

Will Laquan death give us local television coverage of slayer’s trial?

It seems that Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who now faces criminal charges for the shooting death of a 17-year-old boy whose moments of death were caught on somewhat-graphic video is going to wind up being a legal guinea pig of sorts.

VAN DYKE: Soon to be star of 'reality' show?
Other counties have permitted television cameras to shoot video of legal proceedings in their courts. There even have been a few instances within Cook County circuit court.

BUT ALL OF those cases tended to be for incidents of little lasting consequence. Or even much public interest at the moment.

If Van Dyke’s case of multiple counts of murder winds up going to trial, it could be the first Chicago-based criminal proceeding that winds up getting national viewing.

It could be the first instance where we get to see whether cameras in the courtroom actually create a circus-like atmosphere that turns the legal proceedings into a joke. Or is that just a lot of hot air being spewed all these years by court officials who enjoy being able to have the power of the law back up their desire to be a batch of control freaks?

What happened this week was that Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled a television camera could be in his courtroom when Van Dyke is scheduled to appear again on Jan. 29 – a week from Friday for those of you who have trouble reading calendars.

THAT HEARING ISN’T going to amount to much. It’s just a status hearing, and one being held early in the legal process at that.

I have been around courthouses across the Chicago area and Illinois during my years as a reporter-type person, and can tell you that most status hearings last barely a couple of minutes.

They’re usually a quick moment in which the judge checks in with attorneys for both the prosecution and defense to see how their cases are proceeding. Often, the most significant fact that comes out of a status hearing is announcement of the next court date.

Now I realize that in the Van Dyke case, the stakes will be higher and even the most-minute of details will wind up being turned into stories so as to give the appearance that the case is getting intense coverage.

BUT STILL, I can’t help but think a lot of people are going to come away disappointed following next Friday's hearing. Some of us older people may wind up remembering that old Peggy Lee tune, “Is That All There Is?”

I did find it interesting that Gaughan’s ruling to permit the camera in the status hearing was very limited. He’s reserving judgment as to whether they should be permitted in other hearings, or an eventual trial itself.

It could easily turn out that the hearings providing information that would make for interesting copy will wind up being covered the old-fashioned way, with detailed newspaper accounts and the courtroom sketch artists providing their quickie glimpses of what happened in the courtroom.

While television cameras from each station remain perched outside so as to catch daily glimpses of Van Dyke and his attorneys coming to, and leaving from, the courthouse – while the broadcast reporters gripe about the lack of video.

I’LL BE HONEST. As a newspaper reporter, I always enjoyed the advantage of sorts that I held over a television type at the courthouse. So from a purely personal jealousy aspect, I like the status quo.

Although I’m realistic enough to know that this is a change that eventually will become commonplace. It probably is absurd that other parts of the country have adapted while Cook County still regards it as unique for a case (or at least snippets of it) to be viewed on television.

But it will be interesting to see how the activist-types respond to having the issue of their concern watched by the general public, instead of us having to rely upon their own descriptions of what they want us to believe took place.

Although there also is a part of me that wonders if they’re going to resent having television shift their attention away from their protest actions and toward Van Dyke himself!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

366 days – I’m sure some bothered by Leap Year giving Obama extra day

One more year is all Barack Obama has to get something lasting done.

OBAMA: Seven down, one to go
Sure enough, it will be 365 days from Thursday that Obama will cease to be president, and whichever of the mediocrities currently seeking their political party’s presidential nomination who manages to win the November general election will be taking the oath of office.

I FOUND IT interesting to read an e-mail message sent to me Wednesday morning. Bearing the signature “Barack Obama,” it urged me to consider voting for candidates who would be sympathetic to the goals he tried to achieve during his seven years in office.

Because it is certain there are some candidates who are making their appeal to the voters based on the idea that they will try to eradicate any evidence of Obama’s existence from our laws and our history books.

If anything, I can’t help but wonder what they would attack first. Most likely the things that were imposed trough executive order – because all the new president would have to do is rescind the old order and replace it with one of his own doing the opposite.

This is a typical move. George W. Bush killed off some Bill Clinton initiatives, many of which were restored early on by Obama.

THE POLITICAL PARTISAN nature of our government has turned us into a political yo-yo. Up and down, back and forth, no stability – which is part of why our society is such a mess.

Immigration and the minor moves that Obama tried to impose on his own because Congress won’t give permanence to any serious reform of our nation’s policies are a likely first target.

In fact, a Republican president could truly give reality to the biggest fears of some non-citizens living in this country – that those who complied with the Obama measure and registered themselves will have merely provided a hostile federal government with a list of the first people to be deported.

Setting themselves up for their own demise. Which will be the likely reason the Latino vote will go for the Democrat – no matter what form of nonsense Donald Trump or Ted Cruz tries to spew about how they will be competitive for those votes.

EVEN THOUGH MANY Latinos are still laughing at Hillary Clinton comparing herself to a Latina granny, or the fact that Bernie Sanders of Vermont has probably never been exposed to Latinos of any significant number in his life!

Of course, there’s the fact the Supreme Court of the United States is taking it upon itself to hear arguments on this issue – which means the high court could wind up striking down the measure before Obama leaves office.

That is, if people like Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas get their way. Not that I think the high court legitimizing the president’s actions would make a difference to Republican partisans – whose opposition to issues is rarely based on reason and logic.

There’s also the fight over the Affordable Care Act, which got Congressional approval and Supreme Court backing. But the ideologues still don’t want this president to have an achievement for his legacy.

I EXPECT THE fight to repeal this issue will be the dominant battle during the upcoming year of the Obama presidency. Certainly more so than Obama actually being capable of accomplishing anything else of substance.

A fight to maintain the status-quo, which didn’t particularly accomplish much – although I’d argue that Obama was mostly too weak to stand up to a political opposition he should have seen coming from Day One. They were, after all, hostile towards his very existence even before he began campaigning in late 2007.

One more year before the transition – some 365 days from now because of this February has a 29th and is a Leap Year, leading to Jan. 20, 2017 being Inauguration Day.

And before anyone gets all worked up about Obama getting an extra day to his presidency, keep in mind that every president’s four-year term includes a Leap Day. So keep your traps shut and quit showing us just why you take people like Trump and his possible cabinet member, Sarah Palin (who couldn't even be bothered to show up at his recent Iowa campaign event) at all seriously!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

EXTRA: It’s all about partisan politics

I can’t say I’m shocked by the rhetoric being spewed by Republican politicians about a state takeover of the Chicago Public Schools system, but I am pretty much appalled by it.

No matter how predictable it is, it still comes off as quite offensive. As though those suburban pols of the Republican persuasion, along with those of the rural Illinois bearings, are going to save us poor, ignorant Chicagoans from our stupidity and incompetence.

AT LEAST THAT’S my read of the fact that the General Assembly’s Republican leadership are working with Gov. Bruce Rauner to come up with a bill to create an oversight board for the Chicago Public Schools.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, made a point of saying Wednesday that this measure will allow the public schools to declare bankruptcy as a way of legally rebuilding its finances.

As if they’re offering up a life preserver to prevent the schools from drowning financially.

Personally, it’s more of a political power play – trying to gain some influence over an entity that is very much a part of the Democratic Party power structure in this city of Chicago and state of Illinois.

JUST AS I recall the mid-1990s effort to permit local school councils in Chicago as a move approved by Republican politicians in Springfield because they were convinced incompetent Chicagoans would screw everything up to the point where the state could then justify a takeover of the Chicago Public Schools.

Back then, state government had significant Republican influence. For one two-year period, it was GOP-dominated.

But that was then. Now, it is a Democratic-controlled government. Although not Dem-dominant as it was back before the days of Bruce Rauner as governor.

Which is why this measure – which officials said could be introduced before the Legislature within a week – is destined to failure.

IT WOULDN’T TAKE a supermajority vote of Democratic unanimity to kill this off. A simple 60 votes in the Illinois House and 30 votes in the state Senate would be enough to do the job.

That is, unless Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and state Senate President John Cullerton, both D-Chicago, decide to use their legislative control to prevent the measure from ever coming up for a vote.

Actually, that tactic would be the way that Republican partisans would handle the issue – not even giving a chance to something they oppose. I don’t doubt that Cullerton and Madigan, especially Madigan, will want this to come up for a vote.

Because then, the Democratic, Chicago-leaning majorities can come out and vote against the measure. It will fail. It technically will appear to have been democratically debated.

EVEN THOUGH THE outcome was preordained. And Madigan, in particular, will come across as smug if he says that the issue was considered, and the people rejected it.

It’s pure politicking. I realize that. Politicking by both sides, and part of the continued efforts to strong-arm one’s own views down the throat of the opposition. Actually, I find myself agreeing with the Chicago Teachers Union.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, union officials said it was ridiculous to have state government get involved in school finances when they can’t even approve a budget for state government’s own nearly 8-month-old fiscal year. It is a bit more truthful than the Madigan statement that accuses Rauner of trying to attack the middle class and make even more money for his wealthy friends.

Although the honest-to-goodness truth about all this is that it is all more about partisan rhetoric and seeing who can one-up the other in the ongoing fight over who really runs things – and who comes across as the whiny brat!


Turning Wrigley Field into a version of the old State Street downtown “mall?”

Remember back in the days when city officials came up with the idea to turn the State Street downtown shopping district.

Much of the Cubs' appeal is that Wrigley Field hasn't changed much from the days of this six-decade-old postcard
No street traffic. Sidewalks widened. Meant to encourage the idea of people walking about from store to store, making that “great street” into something the equivalent of a suburban mall?

IT IS NOW regarded as one of the dumbest things ever done by the city in an attempt to improve its character, and former Mayor Richard M. Daley made it a priority to have it undone – turning the area around State and Madison streets into normal streets once again.

And improving the atmosphere on State Street significantly by returning it to its original character.

It’s obvious that some people don’t learn from past mistakes. Which seems to be the case with regards to Wrigley Field.

For Chicago Cubs officials have said they want a widening of the sidewalks in the block of the ballpark along Clark and Addison streets. Also, the ball club wants those two streets closed off to traffic on game days during the hours leading up to, and following, ballgames.

WHICH MAY BE only 81 games per year out of the 365-day calendar. But it would still inflict significant damage upon the Lake View neighborhood as a whole – not just the portion that likes to call itself Wrigleyville.

The reality is that the more-than-a-century-old building, which the Cubs themselves will celebrate the 100-year mark of playing in come this season, was built for a different era and for much smaller crowds.

The idea of cramming some 40,000 people per ballgame wasn’t something envisioned back in the days when the Chicago Whales of old built the structure at Clark and Addison (the Cubs back then were the West Side’s ball club).

Would Cubs really copy one of Chicago's redevelopment failures? Photograph provided by
So I don’t doubt that the Cubs have a legitimate point when they say the current structure isn’t really adequate for the number of people they’re cramming in to see Cubs baseball.

BUT I COULD see where such changes would have a negative impact on the neighborhood itself. Bringing in all those people could further enhance the complaints of Lake View neighborhood residents who already complain about Cubs fans who can’t wait long enough to use a port-a-potty or a neighborhood tavern and instead insist on using the alleys behind peoples’ homes for their bathroom needs.

And while I’m sure the Cubs are sincere about their desires to accommodate their crowds, the reality is that much of the reason the Cubs actually draw fans and attract tourists to Wrigley Field is because people want to see its antique character up-close.

The changes being desired by the Cubs would turn Wrigley Field into a second-rate version of any other stadium built during the past couple of decades.

I say second-rate because the changes would be add-ons, instead of features that were designed with the structure in mind.

SOMETIMES I THINK the Cubs don’t appreciate the uniqueness of the facility they play in and its ability to draw people and bolster attendance. If they did, would they be so quick to ask for changes to the structure and its character?

Where else do you see fans buying (and wearing) jerseys touting not the Cubs, but Wrigley Field itself? Besides, so much of Wrigley Field’s character is based off the way it fits into the existing neighborhood. If these kind of features are needed, perhaps it is time to move on to a suburban site for a new stadium – which I’m sure even the Cubs would view as a mistake.

So as for this latest dispute, I’m not surprised to learn that neighborhood activists are speaking out against the Cubs’ demands. These are, after all, the descendants of people who for years fought against the Cubs being allowed to install light towers on the building.

I only hope that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials will feel enough backbone to listen to the neighbors instead of caving in to team owners – which is the stance that politicians everywhere usually wind up taking.