Politics

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Mrs. McGinley

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There are no chairs in the hallway outside the Social Security/Medicare office on Chicago’s northwest side. Nevertheless, arriving well before the office opens has benefits; standing for the better part of an hour is a small price to pay for those hoping to get necessary business completed so they can get on with their day.

I was fifth in line on Friday, getting there about an hour before the 9am opening. Very quickly, I got to discuss my Medicare issues with an expert.

I had needlessly dreaded this visit. The woman assisting me, who wore a badge reading “Mrs. McGinley,” could not have been farther removed from the stereotype of the uncaring civil servant. Our conversation lasted about 20 minutes and, when it was over, I understood all I needed to know about my Medicare benefits and costs.

She helped me immensely and efficiently. I was and am grateful.

Since President Trump forced the federal government “shutdown” on Friday night, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mrs. McGinley. I’ve read comments online about the affected federal employees; “They’ll eventually get their money” “This is no big deal,” etc…

It’s certainly a big deal for civil servants who, at Christmas, unexpectedly will have their paychecks delayed. It’s interesting to note that, though this political theater is supposedly due to Trump’s strong feelings about border security, 54,000 border protection agents will be working for free over Christmas.

What did these public servants do to deserve this disrespect, this uncertainty?

Not a damn thing.

Because our hopelessly corrupt President seeks to distract us from investigations and resignations, Mrs. McGinley and her colleagues are pawns in a game of “Look over there!”

The far right has done a masterful job of ratcheting up resentment of government employees, charging the workers with essentially stealing from taxpayers for advocating for reasonable pay and benefits in exchange for providing services we all need.

People like Mrs. McGinley seem to take it all in stride. While suggesting I follow-up my visit with a phone call to Medicare she added, under her breath, “If there’s anyone answering the phone next week.”

But, once the shutdown ends, she and her two million federal colleagues will continue to answer the phone. They’ll do it because it’s their job to help us, whether we appreciate them or not.

Thank you, Mrs. McGinley. And Merry Christmas.

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Politics

41

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(Updated) When a political leader dies, especially when the death is not a surprise, reaction arrives in predictable waves. Straight news reports give way to biographical assessments, which are almost always laudatory.  Overwhelming praise is soon replaced by reassessment and, inevitably, by disparagement.

So it is with George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, who died November 30 at 94.

In addition to a recounting of Bush 41 accomplishments, it’s been rightly pointed out that, as President, GHW Bush made some bad decisions or allowed terrible things to be done on his watch.

He made the reckless decision to put the uniquely unqualified Dan Quayle a “heartbeat away from the presidency. ”

His 1988 presidential campaign was extremely divisive.

Under the tutelage of hardballers Roger Ailes, James Baker and Lee Atwater, Bush impugned the Americanism of his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, and pandered to prejudice in making hay of Dukakis’ honorable decision to accept a Massachusetts Supreme Court judgment that deemed mandatory pledge-of-allegiance recitals in public schools to be unconstitutional. “What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?” Bush taunted. Then came the Willie Horton ads that hyped the scare-story of an African-American criminal, released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, who raped a woman and assaulted her husband. Never mind that Reagan, as governor of California, had signed a similar furlough bill.

Perhaps nothing Bush did as president was as indefensible as naming Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall on the US Supreme Court when there were much better qualified African American judges or legal scholars he could have chosen.

Yet, GHW Bush deserves our respect for his military service, for the many posts he held in government and, yes, for his single term as President.

If you have strong opinions about politics and policies, and you pay close attention to both, every President will disappoint you.

Every President.

Imagine if we had a president who cared nothing about uniting the country after a divisive election? A president who encouraged division?

Imagine if our Chief Executive was the kind of person who would take actions counter to American interests because he wanted to personally profit, or because he feared alienating his core constituency?

No patriotic American wants that.

Bush 41 was not that man. He foolishly took a “No new taxes” pledge but did what was best for the country by reneging on it.

When former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke won the Republican nomination for Governor of Louisiana, Bush got involved:

“When someone has a long record, an ugly record of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign,” Bush said of Duke. “So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he’s attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana, I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”

He had a memorable presidency. There was good and bad. Some presidents are better than others and 41 was probably somewhere near the middle.

He represents a time when we could have a president who you might not have voted for, and who held distinctly different political views from your own, but who was not an embarrassment and who did not represent a threat to the Constitution and the rule of law.

We’re hearing now from people who think those who are speaking respectfully of George H. W.  Bush have developed amnesia. They seem to think we don’t remember or don’t care about mistakes he made or that were made in his name.

That’s not true.

We’re just very aware of the present as well as the past.

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McBarronBlog Bonus

History

Independence Day

Battle_of_Trenton_by_H Charles_McBarron
The Battle of Trenton
Battle of Bunker Hill
The Battle of Bunker Hill
Battle of Yorktown
The Battle of Yorktown
Battle_of_Guilford_Court_House
Battle of Guilford Court House
Battle of Longue-Pointe, outside of Montreal, Sept. 25, 1775.
Battle of Longue-Pointe (outside of Montreal, Sept. 25, 1775)
Battle of Cowpens

McBarronBlog Bonus:

About the artist

VIDEO: 1991 news interview with H. Charles McBarron Jr.

TIME Magazine: Ten American protest moments

Baseball · Politics · Radio

Thirty years ago, Illinois defeated Florida – Jim Thompson got the save

 

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The owners of the Chicago White Sox were adamant: they were going to get a new ballpark.

As for “In what state?,” Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn were open-minded.

The Sox had played on Chicago’s south side since 1901. However, in the summer of 1988, business leaders and politicians were offering a sweet deal in St. Petersburg if the Sox would become Florida’s first Major League Baseball team.

A cherished dream of many Floridians — the state’s own major-league baseball team — moved closer to reality Tuesday when legislators approved a $30 million plan to lure the Chicago White Sox to St. Petersburg.

”We are extremely pleased,” said Larry Arnold, chief assistant city manager of St. Petersburg.

”We have taken a major step toward bringing major-league baseball to Florida. We have every hope that they’re going to be in St. Petersburg in 1989.”

Supporters of the plan said Tuesday’s votes by the House and the Senate significantly increased the odds that the White Sox will play ball next year in a 43,000-seat domed stadium under construction in downtown St. Petersburg. 

This was a fact: Unless Illinois lawmakers passed the stadium bill by midnight (60 votes needed in the House) on June 30, the White Sox would be Florida-bound on July 1. The reason: after that date, the legislative bar would be raised. A proposal as controversial as the $150 million taxpayer-funded White Sox stadium bill would never get the super-majority (71 House votes) needed for approval after June 30.

On June 30, the stadium bill needed to first get 30 votes to clear the Senate, itself a seemingly impossible task.

It all had to happen by midnight.

In the Senate, Chicago Democrats favored the proposal, but at least three Republicans needed to join them. Noted Chicago-hater James “Pate” Phillip of DuPage County was the Republican Senate leader. His opposition meant no Republicans were willing to vote for the stadium bill.

But the Save Our Sox campaign had some well-placed supporters.

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Governor Jim Thompson, a Chicago Republican popular in his hometown, understood losing one of the city’s two Major League teams would be a blow to the local and state economies. Thompson, in his fourth and final term as governor, also knew a departure of the the White Sox on his watch would stain his legacy.

It was more personal for Speaker Michael Madigan, a White Sox fan whose legislative district is located on Chicago’s south side. But, regardless of what Madigan wanted, saving the Sox would be impossible without Republican support.

June 30, 1988

In the late afternoon on June 30, based on Senate President Phillip’s opposition, Lt. Gov. George Ryan pronounced the Sox stadium bill “dead.”

Phillip had a vice-like grip on his members, so there was no reason to doubt Ryan as the bill awaited a Senate vote.  But, Gov. Thompson wasn’t giving up.

“I said, ‘Pate, this is personal. I want this stadium and you have to help me,'” Thompson said.

In a surprise, Phillip dropped his opposition, allowing his members to vote as they wished. The Senate Minority Leader smirked as Thompson prowled the Senate floor, looking for Republicans willing to support the bill.

Shockingly, Thompson convinced three Republicans to go along, giving the bill the minimum 30 votes needed. As soon as the votes were tallied, Thompson and his lobbying team literally sprinted into the House chamber to try to get the bill passed before the midnight deadline.

What happened next was as dramatic as anything that happened at Comiskey Park  during the 80 years it hosted ballgames.

The sound in the House chamber was a dull roar. The atmosphere was extremely tense.

Thompson scurried around the Republican side of the aisle in a feverish attempt to find supporters. Voting for a stadium for Chicago was not an easy sell for downstate and suburban Republicans.

Every Republican Representative was a potential supporter, as far as the governor was concerned. With all eyes on him, and with Speaker Madigan’s support, Thompson unashamedly played “Let’s Make a Deal” on the House floor.

Afterward, there were stories that Thompson was awarding “pork” projects right and left. One legislator said the governor had promised to support him for Secretary of State.

I’m not sure how a representative could hear any of the promises being made. The decibel level in the chamber ranged from “very loud” to, as midnight drew near, “deafening.”

Ordinarily, a bill is read and debated, voting opens and, after 30 seconds or less of members being prodded “Have all voted who wish?”, voting ends and results are tallied and posted. Reporting a legislative vote “live” for the radio is an uncomplicated task, normally.

What happened shortly before midnight on the evening of June 30, 1988, was not normal.

In the House press box, with a phone jammed against my ear but unable to hear anything being said to me by the WMAQ-AM news producers back in Chicago, I had to assume I was “live” on the air. With one eye on the House tote board and the other on Gov. Thompson twisting arms on the House floor, more than 20 minutes of radio “play-by-play” was improvised for audiences in Chicago and St. Petersburg.

Here are the last eight minutes of the WMAQ broadcast of the House vote. Listen for the tone signaling midnight.

Illinois Issues:

Senators, having adjourned for the night, filled the rear of the House chamber. When the voting opened in the House several members did not register their votes on the electronic board. The voting was closed, thereby forcing representatives to declare their votes. The board showed only 54 yes votes, and 60 were required. The roll call was not announced, giving Thompson and other supporters time to convince reluctant representatives to change their votes. The clock on the vote board was switched off, so nobody could be sure of the exact time. Slowly six representatives, three from each party, asked that their votes be changed from no to yes. When the 60th vote was lit up on the board the vote was immediately announced, as well as the time of 11:59 p.m., although the printed roll call recorded the time at 12:03 a.m.

WMAQ was the only news outlet to broadcast the entire vote “live.” Chicago TV stations, believing the Sox bill was dead, had left Springfield while Chicago’s radio news leader, WBBM, cut away from the Statehouse to air CBS network news at the top of the hour.

WBBM took the “midnight deadline” literally. Speaker Madigan did not.

In the House, after many observers saw their watches read past midnight, the constitutionally mandated adjournment time, the House passed the measure by a 60-55 vote. The published roll call read 12:03 a.m. Friday, which normally would mandate any bill passing by a three-fifths majority, or 71 votes.

“I don’t think there is a judge in the nation, especially in Illinois, who would challenge this,” said Madigan (D., Chicago), who also had strong-armed three Democrats to switch their votes before the electronic toteboard was closed.

“By my watch, it was 11:59′” Madigan said.  “I didn’t know this would pass. The Republicans told me they had seven votes when we went in, but the governor and I and all the members took risks and passed this bill to keep the White Sox in Chicago.”

It was akin to the White Sox coming from behind to win after the final out had been recorded.

“You bet I was worried,” a relieved Thompson told reporters. “Wouldn’t you be worried? Weren’t you watching the votes? This is a political resurrection from the dead, a baseball resurrection from the dead.”

During his 14 years as the state’s chief executive, Jim Thompson usually governed with Republican minorities in both the House and Senate. He won some and lost some but, unlike the current governor, Thompson would never have claimed he was “not in charge.”

Because Jim Thompson knew how to govern, he was able to save the White Sox for Chicago and Illinois.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

Had Thompson failed, Chicago would have missed out on an amazing 2005 season.

The stadium bill’s passing meant the end for a great ballpark. Watch a brief documentary on Comiskey Park

Aerial photo of Comiskey, taken during the 1959 World Series

Watch the final three outs at old Comiskey.

A look at what might have been from a Tampa-St. Petersburg baseball fan 

*This Sox stadium anniversary post is a revised and updated version of a McBarronBlog post from last year.

 

 

Politics

You can’t out-Trump Trump

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With a worldwide audience watching, a prominent celebrity stood on a stage and proudly uttered, twice, the word that tops the list of things you can’t say on television.

The great actor Robert DiNiro seemed to be taking a page from the Donald Trump playbook with an over-the-top, non-substantive attack on the President during his brief moment in the spotlight at the Tony Awards.  What was DiNiro’s point? What was he trying to accomplish with the profane comment?

Aside from making sure everyone knew he didn’t like the President (anyone  paying attention was already aware), the point seemed to be to get a standing ovation.

Mission accomplished.

But how many people who didn’t already agree the current president is a disaster and a menace to the United States changed their opinion as a result of DiNiro’s outburst?

I’ll go out on a limb and estimate the number is “zero.”

I will also speculate a much larger number of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016, but have been experiencing remorse, reacted to DiNiro’s attack and the standing ovation by deciding that a “A guy who pisses off a bunch of overpaid liberal elites wearing tuxedos and evening gowns can’t be all bad.”

Consciously or not, DiNiro was playing Trump’s game by revving up people who already agreed with him. That is not how patriotic Americans can expect to end Trumpism.

Trump was perceived by many of his voters as offering hope, if you can call “What the hell do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump,” a hopeful statement. He promised everything to working people and is delivering nothing. In fact, he’s Robin Hood in reverse.

The Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told the Guardian it was profoundly important that international observers were speaking out about Trump’s impact. “This administration inherited a bad situation with inequality in the US and is now fanning the flames and worsening the situation. What is so disturbing is that Trump, rather than taking measures to ameliorate the problem, is taking measures to aggravate it.”

Top of the list of those measures was the $1.5tn tax cutsenacted by the Republicans last December that slashed corporate tax rates. “Can you believe a country where the life expectancy is already in decline, particularly among those whose income is limited, giving tax breaks to billionaires and corporations while leaving millions of Americans without health insurance?” Stiglitz said.

That is what you talk about when you have the attention of a large group of people if you want to end Trumpism.

Though I’m sure it’s exhilarating to be the man dropping F-bombs on a worldwide audience, it is counter-productive. Time spent defending your use of vulgar language, or debating whether you are being disrespectful to the office of the president, etc, is time you could be using to convince voters to examine what their true self-interests are and to support candidates who actually support programs and policies that will benefit working people.

The first opportunity to bring Trumpism to heel comes in November when Democrats can grab control of the House of Representatives (the Senate might be in play, but the smart people think that’s a long shot). For (at least) one chamber of Congress to finally be able to check the president requires Trumpism opponents win elections in their communities. Doing that means communicating policy ideas in language that will be welcomed and which elucidates the real damage being caused by Trump and Trumpism.

Trumpism will end when people who supported the current president based on his promises and not his personality realize they need to act differently in the next elections.

Mr. DiNiro, with all due respect, the next time you have the world’s attention, please  choose your words with more care than you’ve used in choosing movie roles (like this, and this) in the last decade.

Trumpism needs to be ended as soon as possible. Trump rode profane name calling and vulgar language to Washington. Trying to out Trump Trump will do nothing to get him out of the White House.

 

 

Brush with greatness · pop culture

That time I met (the real) Batman

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in the late 1980s, the big draw for the World of Wheels show in Springfield, IL was the “The Original Batmobile” along with, “TVs Batman, Adam West.”

The crowds weren’t exactly breaking down the doors to see the show or Adam West when I stopped by with my tape recorder for a radio interview. Yet West could not have been nicer or more accommodating when we spoke during his break.

He was wearing “the suit,” with a flight jacket draped over his shoulders. The Batman cowl was pulled back and he was wearing aviator glasses.

The fact I knew some of his non-Batman work (like this, which he was proud of, and this, which he was less proud of) helped the conversation flow.

The elephant in the Springfield convention center that day was how absurd it was for a grown man to be wearing a Batman costume. West didn’t complain about it. His attitude was, “it’s all show business.”

Besides, even in his late 50s, the Batman costume looked good on him.

We talked about then in-production new (Tim Burton) Batman movie. I was incredulous to learn no one had spoken to him about a cameo. Without irony, I blurted, “But you’re Batman.”

He agreed.

West told me many people he’d spoken to said they would be boycotting the movie because he had been treated so shabbily.

If those folks boycotted the movie, which starred Michael Keaton as the Coweled Crusader, most people did not. It was a huge hit.

In my interview, and in every interview I ever heard/read with him, Adam West came across as a very nice, self aware man with a great sense of humor. I wish I still had the tape. I wish I had taken a picture.

For me, he’ll always be Batman.  And if that wasn’t enough (it was for me), he also was Ty Lookwell.

If you’ve never seen the unsold tv pilot, LOOKWELL (created by Conan O’Brian and Robert Smigel), WATCH IT NOW:

If you don’t think LOOKWELL is one of the funniest things ever made for TV, you and I will never be friends.

Adam West died one year ago. I’m glad I was able to spend a few minutes with him and tell one of my childhood heroes how much he’d meant to me.

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McBarronBlog Bonus

Adam West wore the Batman costume in many unusual settings, like this British Public Service Announcement for pedestrian safety.

From WIRED: Adam West – Batman Forever

 

Journalism · Sports

Fox News proves kneeling isn’t disrespectful

The mission of the people who run Fox News, and many of the network’s high profile stars, is to broadcast commentary and pictures that will keep the the 35-40 percent of Americans who aren’t appalled by Donald Trump in a constant state of anger at the “elites.” That’s why every winter sees the resumption of the phony “War on Christmas.

Keeping viewers angry at liberals is good for business.

But sometimes, in journalism and in whatever it is we should call what they do at Fox, mistakes are made. Fox made a doozy this morning.

Fox News apologized Tuesday for a segment that implied Philadelphia Eagles players were protesting the national anthem when they were actually kneeling in prayer prior to games.

“During our report about President Trump cancelling the Philadelphia Eagles trip to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, we showed unrelated footage of players kneeling in prayer,” Christopher Wallace, executive producer of “Fox News @ Night” with Shannon Bream, said in a statement.

“To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout regular or post-season last year. We apologize for the error,” he added.

Whoops.

You can understand how this probably happened: Fox planned stories about the President canceling the White House celebration of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win. (Trump knew many players, including the team’s stars, wouldn’t show up because, among other things, Trump called players who knelt in protest during the playing of the National Anthem before games “sons of bitches”).

So, to provide a visual for the White House cancels Eagles celebration story, someone grabbed video of Eagles players kneeling on the field.

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Unfortunately, the picture above was taken long before the game started and the players huddled in the end zone are praying.

Again, understandable mistake. Here are some players who actually did protest racism  by kneeling during the Anthem before games:

 

 

And here is the man who started it all, Colin Kaepernick, before he was ostracized for making a statement by kneeling.

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It’s impossible to tell whether the players pictured above are praying or protesting. Both activities look exactly the same, therefore it is illogical to claim the the players protesting are being disrespectful.

All the players pictured are making statements:

Some of them are unashamedly displaying their religious faith.

Some of them are displaying their belief that America, in the way too many people of color are treated, is not living up to the ideals represented by the nation’s flag.

Thanks Fox News, for making it clear that the players who want to raise awareness of racism in the United States are disrespecting no one and nothing.

They’re just being good Americans.

McBarronBlog Bonus:
Not everyone at Fox News is in the tank for Donald Trump. Shepard Smith is telling the truth every afternoon. I don’t know how he gets away with it.

Here he rakes the White House Press Secretary over the coals for her latest string of lies.