Coronavirus · Politics

A leadership lesson from across the pond

For only the fifth time in her 68 year reign, England’s Queen Elizabeth went on the air Sunday to address her countrymen and offer reassurance and hopeful words in a time of crisis and consternation.

The Queen:

  • Thanked health care workers for their service to their countrymen
  • Acknowledged the sacrifices being made in this crisis, congratulating everyone doing their part to keep themselves and their fellow citizens safe
  • Promised, “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

Here is some of what the Queen didn’t do:

As a a historical figure, the Queen understands that history informs our understanding of the present and offers us a glimpse into the future.

It isn’t easy, but if we can be mindful of history, it’s easier to have hope going forward.

What’s happening right now, throughout the world, is terrible. But it’s not the first terrible thing for countries affected by COVID 19. This isn’t the first time the people of these countries have have endured devastating conditions, medical and economic.

With her address the Queen acknowledged there is great suffering and there will be more suffering.

Then she promised that eventually, perhaps more slowly than we will want, things will get better.

“We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

The Queen’s use of the phrase ‘we will meet again‘ holds great meaning for the people of England. It’s a reference to Britain’s rallying anthem of World War II “We’ll Meet Again.” (BTW: The song’s popularizer, Vera Lynn, just turned 103).

One more thing the Queen said:

We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us.”

Please remember that.

We expect leaders to inspire and to use the means they control to help achieve success for everyone. But we all have parts to play in the fight, and we all will own a piece of the victory that will come.

Please, stay safe.

We’ll meet again

Don’t know where, Don’t know when

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day







Good public servants deserve to be paid


My wife and I recently stopped into the corner bar and grill for dinner. This being Chicago, the bartender immediately engaged us in a political conversation.

“You live around here? I’m gonna to run for alderman.” 

He explained his philosophy, which sounded fine, then added what he believed would close the deal:

“…and I won’t accept a salary.” 

It’s a thing. Would-be public servants grandly announce they won’t accept payment from taxpayers. They will work for us “for free.”

This promise is intended to win public trust and admiration, though anyone familiar with the history of Illinois politicians knows official compensation is mere tip money for those who take graft seriously.

A current list of high-profile government employees claiming to be doing taxpayers a favor by  working for free includes President Donald Trump, First Daughter, Ivanka Trump, First Son-in-law, Jared Kushner, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and, closer to home, soon to be ex-Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner.

We can add to the list the next governor of Illinois.

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire who pumped a record $171.5 million of his personal fortune into his winning campaign for Illinois governor, will forgo his state salary, his staff said.

Considering state government’s annual spending is nearly $38.5 billion, the $177,412 annual salary Illinois pays its governors is a drop in the bucket. But the Hyatt hotel heir takes office next year facing steep financial challenges — the state’s sitting on at least $7.5 billion in unpaid bills — and refusing a salary sends a message to lawmakers and voters as he starts addressing them.

The only good news about Rauner’s bad governing is that we got it for free. He didn’t accept his governor’s salary.


Remember, the state owes $130 billion borrowed from the state pension systems and expects to take in $36.7 billion, so the impact of the governor’s refusal of payment is infinitesimal.

With J.B. Pritzker, we’re again getting a governor “free of charge.” Will he be better? He’d almost have to be. But like Rauner four years ago, he has no record. We’ll have to see.

Sadly, this idea of getting a public servant “at no cost you YOU!” is likely to become more popular. That’s bad for democracy.

In my years working for teachers and education support employees, I often heard from school board members who were focused exclusively on taxpayers while paying lip service to student needs. These folks balked at the notion school employees should be treated as professionals, suggesting teaching is a “calling,” and therefore not an activity for which the teacher’s education, training and experience should be fairly compensated.

That was wrong. It is always wrong. If you want qualified, competent people who care enough to do their very best and take on important responsibilities, you have to pay them. You should want to pay them.

We shouldn’t let the Bruce Rauner disaster obscure the fact that delivering important public service is real work, deserving of fair compensation.

If J.B. Pritzker can get Illinois on the right track, he will be worth far more than the salary we aren’t paying him.

McBarronBlog Bonus:

Despite the corruption and incompetence, about 25 percent of American voters remain loyal to Donald Trump, proving the producers of The Apprentice did a great job creating his undeserved reputation as a tough, decisive, successful businessman.

Read all about it.



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Mrs. McGinley


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.

# # #






(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.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus

Baseball · Politics · Radio

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



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.


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.

# # #

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.




You can’t out-Trump Trump


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.



Crooks · Politics

Trump and Blago: It takes one to know one


He didn’t build many bridges while in office, but Rod Blagojevich sure burned a few. That’s why, aside from his devoted wife Patti, few have spoken in support for an early release for the twice-elected former Illinois Governor.

Audio tapes played at his trial showed Blagojevich believed he had something “golden” in the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama and he wanted to be paid for it. Conspiring to “sell” the seat, along with lying to the FBI, bought Blago 14 years in the federal pen.

The current President of the United States today initiated a discussion of whether Blago has suffered enough, while misstating the number years in the prison sentence.

“Because what he did does not justify 18 years in a jail. If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse,” he said. “And it doesn’t, he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

Fortunately, former Statehouse reporter Don Sevener recently posted to his blog a mini-refresher course on the Blagojevich years, which reminds us that much, though certainly not all, of the blame for Illinois’ current fiscal mess belongs to Blago.

The governor had a billion-dollar appetite for new spending but a budget insufficient to feed it. Unwilling to raise taxes to support his hunger, he took pension “holidays” — i.e. robbing the state’s retirement systems — to pay for populist (and sometimes popular) new programs and initiatives that the state could not afford. He wasn’t the first or only governor to use the tactic, but he was the most extravagant. 


In office barely two months, Blagojevich demanded higher education institutions return what amounted to a quarter of their state appropriation. He then cut higher education budgets — shortchanging students who faced higher tuition and seeding the demise of a higher education system that once ranked among the elite of the nation.

Let’s also remember that the evidence that gave Blagojevich a place of honor in the team photo of corrupt Illinois politicians included a scheme in which the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital saw $8 million in promised state health care funding withheld from his facility.

Mr. Blagojevich on Oct. 8 discussed with one of his campaign fundraisers pressing the executive — named in the criminal complaint as “Hospital Executive 1” — for a $50,000 campaign contribution, allegedly a quid pro quo for the governor’s recent funding commitment, according to the affidavit.

“I’m going to do $8 million for them. I want to get (Hospital Executive 1) for 50,” Mr. Blagojevich told the fundraiser, according to the 78-page affidavit.

Mr. Blagojevich had a conversation with a deputy governor about the status of the funding, as described in the affidavit: “The pediatric doctors — the reimbursement. Has that gone out yet, or is that still on hold?” Mr. Blagojevich asked.

“It’s January 1,” a deputy governor responded.

“And we have total discretion over it?” he asked.

“Yep,” a deputy governor replied.

“We could pull it back if we need to – budgetary concerns – right?”

A deputy replied “yep,” to which the governor said: “That’s good to know,” according to the affidavit.

Again, we’re talking about a hospital that treats sick children. They never did get the money.

Why would this President consider a pardon commuting the sentence for a not too bright, but extremely greedy, selfish jerk, lacking any principles, who screwed over the people who put him in office and cared only about himself and his immediate family?

Let’s just say Donald Trump understands Rod Blagojevich.

Should he decide to spring the former governor, perhaps the President could help Blagojevich get back on his feet by giving him a job in his administration.

As bad as he is, Blagojevich has more experience in government than most Trump cabinet members.

And as for the moral impact on this Administration, it’s a wash.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus Links

CapitolFax: Blagojevich again attempts to rewrite history

Life, in particular: Throw Away the Key

VIDEO: A man who never takes responsibility tries to get Rod Blagojevich to take responsibility.